I love Instagram. It’s an app that makes your photos look better. Originally just for iPhone (and iPod touch and iPad), it is now available on Android smartphones. It was already popular when Facebook bought it a few months back. Now it’s more popular than ever and if you have kids, you should have this on your radar.
[May 2015 – Instagram’s popularity has exploded since I first wrote this article in 2012! I’ve updated the information and screenshots, and added links to other Instagram posts I’ve written since then. ]
What’s so cool about Instagram?
The answer to this question depends on who you ask. If you ask me, the answer is: It makes your pictures look better. I’ve had a lot of fun snapping pictures, uploading to Instagram, and adding filters and borders. The results make me feel like my work should be featured at an upcoming MoMa exhibit. Here’s an example. I snapped a photo of a bird hanging out in my yard. I couldn’t get too close as I didn’t want birdy to fly away. Then I “instagrammed” it (yep, why not make up a new verb) with filters, blur and a border.
If you ask a teen, they might answer differently. As of this writing (a May 2015 update), 52% of teens ages 13-17 use Instagram. While they likely appreciate the artistic options available for their photos, their main purpose is to connect with friends by sharing, liking and commenting; as a social network.
Is Instagram safe for kids?
As mentioned, I use Instagram primarily for post-production photo effects but kids make full use of the social features. I’ve even heard one girl tell her mom “Instagram is kind of like Facebook for kids”. The social networking features consists of following each other, commenting on photos and liking each other’s photos and videos. Nothing wrong with that, but here’s what to keep in mind:
- Instagram is intended for 13 and over but it is easy for someone younger to create a profile.
- Profiles are public by default (but I’ll show you how you can make it private).
- While most users post pictures of sunsets, clouds, smiling friends and puppies, your child could come across some nudity. Personal note – I have only seen nudity when actively searching for it for the purposes of writing this article! But there are ways to very quickly find some really raunchy and racy pictures if you know how to do it. I’m not going to tell you here ‘lest the kids are reading…but let’s just say it’s out there.
- Instagram is rated 12+ in the Apple app store. If you don’t want this on your child’s iPod touch or iPad, you can use restrictions to prevent downloading the app.
- There is an option to tag a photo with a location (geotag). You can disable this by turning Location Services off for the app (Settings > Privacy > Location Services) and setting parental control restrictions to prevent your kid from changing it back.
- There is a Photo Map option. If photos are tagged with a location, they can be viewed on a map. This Instagram Help page explains it pretty clearly. If your kid’s photos are private, only approved followers will be able to view photos on the map. If their photos are public, then it could be easier for strangers to locate your child.
How to make Instagram Photos private
If you decide to allow the app I recommend setting your child’s Instagram profile to private. Here’s how:
1. Open the app and click the Profile icon at the bottom right (circled) and then click the Options icon in the upper right (circled). Note that I only use my first name here – I recommend that for your kid too!
2. This takes you to the Options screen. Now scroll down to the bottom and make sure the “Private Account” setting is turned on as shown here.
Now only those who your child has accepted as a follower can see his or her pictures. Non-approved users cannot see a list of your child’s followers, and who he or she is following. This is helpful in maintaining some semblance of privacy on the Instragram social network.
Since I follow my daughter on the app and she follows me (another recommendation of mine) I now know, by clicking through the list, that there are plenty of other kids from her school using Instagram. Some have private profiles but others encourage followers – a 7th grader has over 1,500 followers!
As with other social networks there are the “popularity contest” issues and bullying concerns. These are points to keep in mind as you consider whether Instagram is okay for your child or teen.
Other Instagram articles on Be Web Smart:
- Parents’ Guide to Instagram
- Instagram: Now with video
- Instagram Web Profiles introduced – How to keep your child’s information private
- Five unofficial rules for following your teen on Instagram
- Why you’re not seeing all your kids’ Instagram activity
And here are a few resources from around the web for parents who want to learn more about Instagram.