Launched in October of 2010, Instagram has become one of the most popular social media platforms, especially with teenagers. Instagram’s 600 million monthly users post more than 95 million photos and videos per day. With so many people and so much content, what should a parent of a young Instagrammer know about the platform? Is Instagram safe? We got the scoop from Nicky Jackson Colaco, director of public policy for Instagram.
1. Instagram Has a Policy on Age
If you’d prefer your 10-year-old not use Instagram, then you have an easy out.
“We require that people be at least 13 to join Instagram,” says Colaco. “If it comes to our attention that someone is underage and using Instagram, we remove them from the site as soon as we’re notified.”
2. Instagram Has a System To Report and Review Misuse
If your adolescent does experience abuse on Instagram, there’s help.
“We use a combination of automation and manual review,” explains Nicky Jackson Colaco. “We’re a tech company, and we have tools and engineering systems to detect things. With that said, the vast majority of the content that comes up for review is content that is flagged by our community. If you see instances of misuse in your feed, right click on the dot-dot-dot in the bottom right of the image, and report it immediately from the app. It’s super easy.”
Adds Colaco: “Teens are actually really good about identifying content that they don’t want to see, or that they’re not comfortable with. They’re so savvy when it comes to using the tool. A lot of the reports we get are from teens who think that content violates our guidelines, and then we review it.”
Parents should also check out Instagram’s Help Center, which includes a helpful section called Tips for Parents.
3. Most Teens are Following the Rules
The good news: there aren’t that many bad apples.
“We encourage you to assume the best of your kids,” says Colaco. “A lot of kids are using social media. They’re using different communications tools because it’s a form of expression. It helps them create a place where they feel like they can really talk to people, and share who they are.”
“Teens thirteen and above are really thoughtful about what they do online,” she adds. “You don’t have to take this from me. You can talk to actual child safety advocates and Internet advocates who will talk to you about sharing.”
4. The Best Way to Understand Instagram is to Try It Yourself
Think of it as getting to know the neighborhood in which your teenager is hanging out.
“Five years ago, people were saying, ‘If your kid was on a team or in school, any place they were spending time, you should spend time there as well. Get to know whom they’re talking to, playing with, interacting with, whatever.’ I think that’s really solid advice for social media too, though the challenge for parents is that it’s really difficult to understand all the social-media apps.”
5. Make Sure Your Teenager Knows Instagram Safety Basics
This does not need to take more than a few minutes.
“What we try to do is say to parents, ‘Listen. You’re busy. You have a ton going on. You’re not going to be able to master every app. Here’s what we want you to know about any app: Is your account private or public? Are you sharing your location? Do you know how to report something that’s inappropriate, or that you don’t like? Do you know how to find the Help Center if you needed to?’ Those kinds of things.”
6. Talk About It
You’ve heard it before: keep the lines of communication open with your teenagers.
“It can be scary for parents to think, ‘What is my teen actually doing on these services?'” says Colaco. “But if you assume the best, that will allow you go to your teen and say, ‘I really want to understand. Tell me about Instagram. Tell me why you like it so much. How does it work?'”
“If you have those conversations with teens, it shows that you’re interested and that you respect what they’re doing, but you’re still the parent,” she adds. “You’re still going to monitor, and have a good, solid understanding of where your teen is spending time. And keep the conversation ongoing. Check in from time to time. ‘What are you following? What are you interested in? Show me the cool accounts that you’re seeing.’ Often, just by asking teens questions and trying to understand why things are important to them, you get to some of that really good conversation.”
7. Try These Conversation Starters
Here’s what Nicky Jackson Colaco recommends, whether it’s Instagram or another app:
— What does the app do?
— Who are you sharing with?
— Are your posts public?
— How can you make your posts private?
— Are your location tools turned on?
8. Location Services are Good and Bad. You Decide
This is true for almost all apps.
“On Instagram, when people share their location, we can start to group content by a location,” explains Colaco. “A recent example are the terror attacks in France. Students and lots of people around the globe were seeing what was happening in Paris at that moment. That’s a really compelling use of location.”
Adds Colaco: “With that said, you don’t want somebody to share their location unwillingly. What we say to parents is to have a conversation with your teen. ‘Does it use location? Is it asking you to check in?’ And ask yourself: How do I, as a parent, feel about that?”
9. Your Teenager Won’t Always Make Great Decisions
Think of these as teachable moments.
“If you see stuff that you don’t like, have a conversation about that, too,” suggests Colaco. “Ask, ‘What made you post that?’ A really good example of this is that there are a lot of teen girls who will post cute or flirty photos of themselves. It’s totally innocuous. Then there are some who are even more flirty, and somewhat sexualized. It’s not adult content, but as a mother of a young girl, you might want to say, ‘Why is that important to you? Why are you presenting that side of yourself?'”
“It’s much more than Instagram or any social media app at that point. It’s more, ‘How are you feeling about yourself? Why do you feel the need to show that side of yourself?’ There’s a lot there. That’s where we want parents to be. To be honest, I’m much more interested in that side of self-confidence and self-worth than sharing of location. Sharing location can feel scary, but in reality, I don’t think it’s as risky as some other things. There are more nuanced parenting conversations that have to happen.”
10. Insist on Basic Safety Rules
Whether you’re more hands-off or more hands-on when it comes to monitoring social media, there are some hard-and-fast rules for everyone. Here are three that Nicky Jackson Colaco recommends:
- Use a complicated password.
- Don’t use the same password across accounts.
- Don’t lend your device to people that you don’t know.
–Interview by Susan Borison