The App that Kids Love – and Some Parents Loathe
Are you raising a budding photographer or just have a social butterfly who likes to take myriads of pictures, or just likes seeing the pictures that other people take? If so, chances are that your child has seen, used, or downloaded Instagram. Do you know what Instagram is – and why it might pose a danger to your child?
Instagram is an app for devices such as iPads and smart phones, and is one of the fastest growing products by use on the market. And it is free – making it perfectly marketable for kids. Users – our children included, take, download, and modify pictures using special filtering software. Then these pictures can be shared via Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr. Instagram claims the app is, “photo sharing, reinvented.” Even though it is promoted as a photo sharing application, in reality our teenagers are using it as a social media site for networking among peers (and too often strangers).
Why Does Instagram Pose a Danger to My Kids?
Instagram, according to Nielsen, is one of the most popular photo sharing sites in the world among teens, with more than 1 million kids using or visiting the app site in July of 2012. If your teen hasn’t been there, he or she is likely to find it soon – and the dangers grow as the audiences and user numbers grow. On the outside it might seem like a harmless and entertaining way to share pictures, but in reality it is very similar to other social media sites like Facebook and MySpace – it connects people in open forums of conversation and expression.
- Just like any other social media site, Instagram cannot accept applications for accounts for children under the age of 13 years. However, the sign-up process is not authenticated, and children simply have to choose a birth year that makes them “of age”.
- The default setting for privacy is set to public, meaning that unless your child intentionally changes the setting, anyone, anywhere can see pictures your child takes and pictures of your child.
- Reports of fake accounts established by bullies who use Instagram as a way to tease and degrade classmates are emerging.
- Viewers of the photos can leave comments. Inevitably there are users who don’t follow the rule my mom always preached – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
- There is a geo location feature that allows the photographs to be tagged according to geographic location (geotagging). If those pictures of your child at her birthday party are posted via Instagram on the public setting, and then tagged as occurring at your home, your daughter’s privacy has just been seriously compromised, and perhaps her safety as well.
- While there are rules against it, it also seems inevitable that people will use the app for posting inappropriate and sexually explicit photos and comments. Your child can be easily exposed to these.
How Can I Keep My Kids Safe on Instagram?
There are no fool proof ways to use any software or app program, so the first line of defense for parents is to keep open lines of communication, have family rules for technology use, incorporate security software as needed, and practice due diligence. Beyond these basic rules for technology safety, you can take a few steps with Instagram settings and procedures to help keep your kids as safe as possible.
- Don’t allow your kids who are younger than 13 years to get an Instagram account. Those safety and security parameters, no matter how weak, are there for a reason.
- Tie your child’s iTunes account into your own so that you are aware of the apps being downloaded.
- Make sure to have the privacy setting changed from the default of public to private. Then the photos your child posts can only be seen by her friends. Go to your child’s profile page on Instagram and look to the bottom of the page to find the switch that is labeled “photos are private” and turn the switch to ON to reflect the changes.
- Talk with your kids about the geo location feature and explain the dangers of using it, and make it a rule that they can’t, and that they should monitor who tags their locations on Instagram (they can ask friends not to geotag them).
- Don’t be afraid to report abusive or inappropriate pictures or comments. On the profile page of the offender that is an option you can tap in the upper right hand corner of the screen and either request to block user or report user.
If you’re like me, you might be sighing and thinking – what else am I going to have to worry about with my kids and technology? I think the truth is: a lot. While our kids are living in a world that just can’t compare to the environments in which we grew up as kids, as parents we are also parenting in a new world that our own parents have a hard time envisioning. It is not realistic or even productive to shelter our kids from all of these apps, sites, and technology related advancements. Instead it is time to buckle up, put on my big girl pants, and get ready to go along for the ride. If I’m lucky I’ll get to navigate some, but I’m not going to just sit back and close my eyes, waiting for it to be over – there is too much scenery to miss along the way. Arm yourself with some facts, get ready to protect your kids from one more online danger, and keep two hands on the steering wheel.