A few months ago we chatted about Snapchat and maybe some of us learned a few things about how kids are using the tech. Hopefully we all went through our children’s phones and had a conversation about what’s appropriate, and what’s not.
But let’s talk again, this time about Instagram.
Instagram is a favorite of mine because I follow a lot of fellow book reviewers and I have a weird obsession with how other people style their bookshelves (like I’m ever going to realistically organize mine by color.) Instagram is often viewed as an app that’s not as dangerous as Snapchat is, but is also not dorky like Facebook can be and doesn’t require as much thought as Twitter does. You’ll get the argument that it’s the safest option that still makes teens feel cool to use.
Instagram is a free, photo sharing app. It’s considered social media because it has a public social aspect, but users can also “slide into the DM” even if they aren’t following each other. (That means you can send messages and/or photos to someone privately, and I will tell you, 95% of the time, DMs are not pictures of cute puppies.) Just like on Snapchat, it is easy to find mature content (girls and boys wearing next-to-no clothing, sensitive topics, or worse). Instagram also has the ability to host videos and stories which are short-lived snapshots of a person’s life. The problem with all social media is that kids feel pressure to grow their own persona, get more followers, and have interesting content; it can feel addictive.
The Quick and Dirty
- Instagram does allow you to share your location on your post, so make sure your child is not doing that.
- Know that unless their profile is private, everyone can see it. You also need to know that the people who have questionable material on their feed almost never have a private profile; they want you to see it so your child will stumble across things you likely wouldn’t approve of.
- Instagram has a Direct Message feature (anyone can send you messages and you can send messages to anyone), Disappearing Messages (similar to Snapchat), and Stories (it’s like a slideshow of things that wouldn’t show up in your regular feed but you have more control on who can see that and whether they can message you or share the content).
- It’s not necessarily the people they search for that will give them mature content, it’s the hashtags. They likely aren’t going to search #mymomissocool, which is a shame because that’s what they should be searching. Even if they only have five friends who see their photos in a feed, if your kid tags their photo with a hashtag like #schoolreallysucks, then anyone who searches that hashtag can see their photo. So again, it’s those hashtags that are the problem.
- Instagram is run solely on photos and almost all of them are photos of people. While a lot of them are harmless, the underlining themes of Instagram are of beauty and perfection. Teens can really fixate on this and not necessarily realize (or care) that the image is heavily filtered. It can affect their self-image and their self-esteem. It’s really important to continually have that conversation with sons and daughters because it affects them equally.
Is it a Rinsta or a Finsta? Ship or dip?
I am 37 years old, I have been on Instagram for a really long time, and I literally just learned about a Rinsta and a Finsta, so please don’t think I’m some technology wizard because I am an average mom who takes a selfie from neck up because that’s all I can manage to get together. But you might hear your child using these terms and it’s important because it makes a difference.
Rinsta: Is a REAL Instagram account. It’s the real person, it’s their photos, and it’s their content they agree to share.
Finsta: Is a FAKE Instagram account. Primarily these are unflattering photos, or maybe photos the person has no idea have been taken, or maybe they’ve shared them in confidence and surprise! They end up on social media. The problem with these is that it is really hard to have that account closed and deleted, and while I’m sure it technically can be done, I’ve never heard of that happening. The danger of finstas is that’s where the cyberbullying breeds and there is next to nothing you can do about it because there’s no way to detect who is actually behind it.
Another trend happening on Instagram particularly is the Ship or Dip pairings. It could be of an actual couple or maybe two random people, but the picture(s) are put out there and people can vote ship or dip.
Ship: They would make a cute couple. Normally these will have comments on why they’d be a good couple, declarations on how nice, pretty, or good looking people are.
Dip: They would not make a good couple. I’ve never seen this end nicely and you definitely don’t want to be deemed a dip because the comments spiral into cruel territory rather quickly.
There’s more to know about Instagram?!
You really need to know that there are no actual parental controls within Instagram. Yes, you can see the photos they’ve posted but you can’t see what they’ve seen. The user can also clear the search history so if your child was looking up sex, drugs, and rock and roll you would never know it.
The good news about Instagram as a social media option is that there are more ways to control the people you connect with. You are able to block or mute people easily, and you are able to report people (but there is a lot of information out there that says Instagram isn’t so quick to do anything about it so I wouldn’t rely on that a whole lot). The other nice feature is you can approve (or not) when a person tags you in a photo or meme and that will determine if it shows up in your feed.
Whether you let your child have access to social media or not, it can be used as a spring board to some important conversations we should all be having with our kids. It’s important to remind them that is just a happy snapshot of someone’s life. They shouldn’t assume that someone with smiling pictures is necessarily happy all of the time and they shouldn’t compare themselves and their lives to the photos they are seeing. Just as we remind them “it’s a bad day, not a bad life”, the reverse can also true, “it’s a good moment, not a great life”, especially in a time where teen suicide is on the rise and mental health issues are a struggle for many. Many “influencers” live active lives on social media but in reality are alone and struggle. It’s our job to remind our children that while technology can be pretty amazing and connect us with people all around the world, the ones around us every day are the most important. It’s important for them to have the skills to be able to communicate effectively one on one, in person, with someone as well.
I remember getting the internet for the first time when I was in 8th grade and my parents had no idea that I was talking to boys all over the country in weird Yahoo chat rooms. It turned out okay for me but I think at how easy it would be for a teen today to meet someone off the internet and all the different ways that could end up. It’s all about finding that balance between guiding them to make good choices that keep them safe and still be, as Amy Pohler says in Mean Girls, “not like a regular mom, but a cool mom”.