Answering parents most frequently asked questions about Instagram

02 Aug 2019 Becca Cawthorne

Instagram is a site that we see a lot of parents and carers asking questions about, whether these are about age limits and reporting or what the latest ‘insta’ slang is. In this blog, we answer some of the burning questions you may have about Instagram.

We know that social media services are popular with young people of all ages. Parents have an important role in helping prepare their children to go online before they start to use social media platforms. Together you can look at the key things they need to know about staying safe online, critical thinking, and the safety settings that are available to them. If you need any advice on this, read our blog on setting up social media profiles together.

Does it matter that my 11 year old is on Instagram?

When looking at age restrictions on social media, a question we get asked a lot by both young people and adults is ‘why does it even matter that someone has lied about their age to get an account?’.

Over the years our advice about age restrictions has remained the same: is that it’s always better to wait until the required age to join any social media service, game or website. Age restrictions on these sites have two key roles: privacy and safety.

  • Privacy: The reason most social media services use an age limit of 13 is due to a law called COPPA. This law states that any organisations or people operating online services (including social media services) are not allowed to collect the personal information of anyone under the age of 13 without parental permission.
  • Safety: Some services offer additional protection for users who are registered as under 18 and, by supplying a fake age, young people can potentially lose some of this protection. Young people also risk being exposed to content which is intended for older users when they use sites that are not designed for people their age.

It’s also important to note that if a service finds out a user is underage then they may delete the user’s account and any content which has been shared. This is to protect both the user and the company that run the site.

My child has created an account without me knowing, what can I do?

Our key piece of advice in situations like this is to get curious, not furious. Use this as an opportunity to ask some key questions about Instagram and what your child has been doing on it.

It’s also important not to confiscate the device straight away, as many young people tell us that the reason they don’t tell their parents about a problem online is due to worrying that they will take their phone, tablet or access to the internet away. Ensure that your child feels they can come to you without the fear of judgement or punishment if anything worries or upsets them online.
Once you have had this conversation you can move on to the next steps, whether that is deleting the account or working together to ensure your child is safe online.

Why not take a look at the app together? Take time to review the profile they have set up and discuss whether their privacy settings and the content they post are appropriate. This can be a good chance to discuss why they want an Instagram account, and gives you time to explain why it may not be suitable for them to do so.

It’s also key to be prepared to hear the argument of ‘everyone else is on it’. As children get older, it can seem like the most important thing to be on each new site or app that is available and children can sometimes feel like they’re the only one who’s being left out. However, it can be helpful for parents to dig a little deeper.

Remember that just because everyone at school is talking about a site (such as Instagram), it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are all using it. Try talking to other parents and asking if their children are using it. It’s easy for these kind of things to get exaggerated and you may find that far fewer of your children’s classmates are actually using it than it may have initially appeared.

If you decide to delete their profile, Instagram has created this step by step guide on how to do so. If your child has a lot of content on their account that they may want access to once you decide as a family that the time is right, you can also temporarily disable the account.

Creating a Family Agreement can also be a great way to share your expectations around internet use with your children. You can explore which apps they are allowed to use, set expectations around how they set up profiles and even set a date when this will be reviewed by all of your family.

How can I talk to my child about what they post on Instagram?

A great place to start when talking to your child about what they post online is through considering their digital footprint. Talk to them about who may see what they post on Instagram and what impression they want their followers to have of them. This can lead to them discovering that they want to change the kind of things they are posting.

Personal information is a key thing to consider when posting on Instagram and, with information so easily hidden in the background of photos or in the location tags, it can be difficult for young people to navigate. We remind young people that personal information is like a jigsaw, the more that they post, the more can be seen of their lives. Why not get them to evaluate the information that others may be able to build by looking at their profile?

This can also be a great time to check privacy settings, Instagram has two types of profile: ‘private’ and ‘public’ (read our guide to these types of profiles here). On a private account, users have to approve anyone who requests to follow them before they are able to see any of their posts. On a public account, anyone can see their photos, read their captions and interact with their profile. Why not ask your child about who is following them on social media, how they know each other and what kind of people they accept requests from?

It’s also important to remind your child that what they post online may stay there longer than they think it does. With people able to screenshot, screen-record and save photos on the most popular sites, once you post something there is no guarantee that it will ever disappear – even if you delete it.  However, it’s important not to use this as an opportunity to scare or worry them. Some young people feel that reporting is pointless as they believe the content won’t be removed, however reporting content is different to deleting it yourself, and if something breaks Instagram’s user terms they will take steps and measures to ensure it is removed.

Instagram vs ‘finstagram’ – what does it mean?

A ‘finstagram’ (sometimes called a ‘finsta’) is a secret, private account that young people may have alongside their main Instagram account.

Young people who have these accounts may only allow their close friends follow it and may use it to post funny, embarrassing or personal content. Young people may create this type of account as it is can be a fun way to express themselves to their close friends, without fear of judgement from their wider peer group who may be following their main Instagram account.

Am I sharenting?

For Safer Internet Day 2019 we spoke to the Childnet Digital leaders about their experiences of parents over sharing about them online (also known as ‘sharenting’) and the way it makes them feel. Speak to your child before you post a photo or video of them online. Ask them if they are comfortable with you to posting it and then you can be sure they are completely happy.

It’s important to have a conversation with your child about the way that you use the internet. Talk about the great things that you can do online, the way in which they can create a positive digital footprint, and the way in which others can contribute to this.

A family agreement can be a great way to decide what information and images you will share online as a family, this allows each family member to make promises about their online behaviour and conduct. Creating a family agreement can also be a great way to talk about the way in which you are posting about your children, but also to discuss how they are posting about you.

When posting about your children, it’s also important to be mindful of personal information. A lot of personal information may be hidden in photos and videos, this includes:

  • School name: shown by the school uniform worn in pictures
  • Home address: shown by house numbers or street names in the background of photos
  • Date of birth: either in the background of pictures or via birth announcements and birthdays
  • Phone numbers: shown on documents in the background of pictures or on the collar of a family pet

Before posting a photo online, check it for any personal information that you may be inadvertently sharing. 

Instagram for good

Instagram can be a wonderful tool for all of us. It allows us to connect, explore, and share happy memories and exciting ideas. If used incorrectly or without proper understanding, it can sometimes cause us problems. Hopefully this guide has shown you that, with a bit of thought, dialogue, and common sense, you and your children can get the most out of Instagram – free from harm and free from worry.

Happy ‘gramming!

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