Is Instagram safe for kids? We answer all of your parental control questions in this comprehensive app review.


Instagram App Review 2

What is Instagram?

App Store description: Instagram is a simple way to capture and share photos and videos with friends, utilizing a variety of custom photo filters to enhance and beautify life’s moments. Instagram is one of the most popular “social media doorways” for young people because most parents perceive it to be the lowest risk since “it’s just pictures.”

Category: Social Media

APP Store rating: 12+ (“infrequent/mild alcohol, tobacco, drug, mature/suggestive themes, profanity or crude humor, sexual content and nudity,” etc.), although users are supposed to be at least 13 years old in order to comply with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). We believe Instagram is more of an adult app, and most recently, have used Instagram as an example of what’s wrong with app ratings in our #fixappratings movement

What do parents need to know about Instagram? 

Is my child ready for Instagram? Every kid is different and only you can make the final decision. We recommend reading this entire post and then also reading our popular post about the right age for social media. As you’ll see, there just aren’t many things that parents can control.

Related post: What’s the Right Age to Give my Kid Social Media?

Does Instagram have parental controls? Not in the traditional sense. We define parental controls as items that parents can set and lock into place. There are plenty of functions that parents can set, which we’ll explain below, but everything can be changed back. This is the problem.

How do I set up my child’s first Instagram account?

Anyone can create a new Instagram account, but there are 6 minimum steps that parents with young, first-time users should implement:

  1. Make their account Private (see instructions below).
  2. Check who is in their follower list from time to time and ask them if they can identify everyone they are following and everyone who is following them. Don’t know how to check followers? (See instructions below.)
  3. Ask them specifically if they have any private, fake, extra accounts (called Finstas, explained below). Let them know what your rules are related to having multiple accounts.
  4. Create your own Instagram account to get familiar with the app. For brand new Instagram users, you might consider following their account, but this can be a big ding on trust. Be careful with this step.
  5. Ensure you’ve had conversations with your kids about everything, including pornography, predators, and drugs. All are abundant on Instagram.
  6. Use BARK. It’s one of only 2 solutions that give you any insight into Instagram activity (Covenant Eyes is the other, with Screen Accountability – Android only).

Bark Parental Controls

[Click here or the logo above to visit Bark – free to begin!]

Make your child’s Instagram account Private. This is the most important step when creating a new account. Setting your account to private makes would-be followers ask permission to follow, and only allows followers to see all posts (instead of the general Instagram public). NOTE: even if your child has a “private” account, that only protects his or her identity from an unapproved follower. It does not prevent him/her from searching and finding all kinds of content. 

How to create a private account on Instagram:
  1. Tap your child’s profile picture in the bottom right corner.
  2. At the top right of the screen, tap the three stacked horizontal lines.
  3. A screen will slide open to the left. At the bottom, click the gear, Settings.
  4. Scroll down and tap Privacy.
  5. Scroll down and tap Account Privacy.
  6. Tap to toggle and enable Private Account.

**Warning about Private Instagram Accounts. Anyone can still send a direct message (DM) to anyone else, even if their account is private, as explained in Instagram’s help section. See the image below:

Instagram Direct - PYE


Check your child’s followers from time to time. With a private account, no one can follow your kid without permission. You can decide how to navigate that permission. Maybe once a quarter, just check who is following them and who they are following. You’ll learn a lot about what your kid loves by seeing who they follow. **Note – checking Followers is also a covert way of knowing if they’ve created a “fake” Instagram (Finsta) account. Kids almost always follow their fake accounts from their “real” accounts. 

How do I check my kid’s followers on Instagram?
  • Click their profile in the lower right corner of the bottom menu.
  • Click the “Followers” number toward the top.
  • Thumb through both “Followers” and “Following” lists with your child.

Instagram Parental Controls - PYE

Is there porn on Instagram? Yes. Quite a bit of it. Because it’s built on pictures and videos, there is plenty of pornographic content. Yes, straight-up porn is very easy to find by using hashtags and within Link.tree links in user bios. Searches for inappropriate content in hashtags and accounts can easily be hidden by a kid who knows how to erase his search history (profile -> upper right 3 bars -> Settings -> Security -> Clear Search History). 

If your child has an iPhone, keep reading. There’s a critical step you must take for blocking some of the porn on Instagram. Linktree is a way to include web links in the bio of a profile. Porn performers place pornographic Linktree links everywhere, but if you enable the Content Restrictions in Apple’s Screen Time, it will block most of them (Learn more about Apple’s Screen Time here: iOS 13 Parental Controls). This image shows you how Screen Time blocks the Linktree porn:

Instagram Parental Controls - PYE

Related posts: Instagram’s Porn Problem (Instaporn)

How do I report pornographic or abusive content on Instagram?
  1. To report the entire account – tap “…” in the top right corner of the offending user profile.
  2. Tap “Report.” Then, “It’s Inappropriate.” Then, “I believe this account violates Instagram’s community guidelines.”
  3. Then follow whatever path best fits the reason for you reporting the account.
  4. To report individual posts – tap “…” in the upper, right corner of the post.
  5. Tap “Report.” Then, “It’s Inappropriate.” Then, follow whatever path best fits the reason for you reporting the post.
  6. To report individual comments – swipe left on the comment itself and tap the exclamation mark in the stop sign.
  7. Tap “Abusive Content,” and then follow whatever path best fits the reason for you reporting the comment.

Be aware of what passes Instagram’s Community Guidelines. It’s shocking. We’ve reported plenty of pornography on Instagram and they typically take it down quickly. But, with a simple, well-positioned flower over a nipple, or a slight blurring of certain private parts, an otherwise nude person isn’t flagged as inappropriate.

Five of these six images were reported and passed by Instagram. The only one that Instagram eventually removed was the woman having sex with a horse.

Instagram Parental Controls - PYE

Instagram Stories are wildly popular. For parents, just know that a Story (which is a feature they stole from Snapchat), is a collection of recent posts. If there’s a colorful ring around their profile picture, then they have posted a Story for someone to click on.

How do I control privacy for Instagram Stories?
  • Click your profile in the lower right corner, then the three, horizontal lines in the upper right corner.
  • Click “Settings,” then, “Privacy,” then “Story.”
  • From there, toggle and select things as needed for your situation.

Hashtags are huge, fun, and really hard to control. The hashtag feature just creates a repository of specific themes for people to troll, i.e., #girls, #kikme, #snapchatnudes, etc. Hashtags are where the porn is. 

Instagram can be harmful to self-esteem. This app can have significant impacts on the self-esteem of young girls, who see what perfectly posed photos gain the most attention, and fall victim to comparing themselves to others. Comments posted by others can be affirming or damaging.

Instagram is on the front lines of cyberbullying, and parents often miss the signs. Some bullying is overt, through malicious posts. But, sometimes, it’s below the surface and hard to detect. This is often done through fake accounts (called “Finstas“), by commenting on pictures, or by excluding someone from being tagged on a group photo. The July 2018 feature release of questions asked on Stories can be used to be mean, although these questions do include the username, which helps prevent anonymous cruelty.

Related Post: What’s a Finsta Account on Instagram? 

How to block a user on Instagram:
  1. Tap the offending user’s username or profile photo. This will take you to their profile.
  2. Tap the “…” in the top right corner.
  3. Tap “Block” in red.
How to hide offensive comments by default on Instagram posts:
  • Tap your profile in the lower right corner of the bottom menu.
  • Tap the three bars in the top right corner of your profile.
  • Then, “Settings,” then “Privacy,” then “Comments.”
  • Under “Filters,” toggle on “Hide Offensive Comments.”

Just in October 2019, Instagram’s new Restrict feature is now live. This anti-bullying tool is meant to help users who are reluctant to block or report problematic followers. If a user restricts a follower, their comments will not be made public (but they won’t know that). The follower will also not be able to see when the user is active or has read their direct messages. A user can un-restrict someone at any point too.

How to RESTRICT a user on Instagram:
  1. Swipe left on one of their comments.
  2. Select “Restrict [user].”
  3. After you’ve enabled “Restrict” on someone’s account, their comments on your posts will only be visible to them (meaning, they won’t know they’ve been Restricted, which is the whole point of the feature).
How to control who comments on your Instagram photos:
  • Tap your profile in the lower right corner of the bottom menu.
  • Tap the three bars in the top right corner of your profile.
  • Then, “Settings,” then “Privacy,” then “Comments.”
  • From there, set the toggles how you see fit for your situation.
How to turn off all comments on your Instagram posts:
  • Tap one of your posts.
  • Tap the “…” in the upper, right corner.
  • Select “Turn off Commenting.” It’s that easy!

UK Father blames Instagram for the death of his teen daughter due to abundance of self-harm content. Since this accusation in January 2019, Instagram seems to have cleaned up a lot of the junk. But it’s still there.

Related post: Suicide Porn on Instagram

CNN named Instagram the #1 social platform for child grooming on March 1, 2019. Our own testing using a public, teen account proved harrowing. If you want to learn more, please read our viral post.

Related post: 4 Ways Pedophiles Exploit Instagram to Groom Kids

Instagram TV is fully accessible from the Instagram app. In an effort to compete with long-form video giant YouTube, we now have IGTV. There are no IGTV parental controls, meaning anything and everything is now going to be even more accessible by our young people.

Related post: What is Instagram TV (IGTV)?

Other miscellaneous Instagram features include:

How to mitigate how much Instagram tracks you. If you are concerned about how Instagram (technically it is parent company Facebook) tracks every single thing on and off Instagram that your child (or you!) sees, then you will want to read this article from Wired about how to stop them a little bit. The tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) version: there isn’t a lot you can do except to delete the app. First, you can delete some of your data, like search history or contacts uploaded from your phone. Second, you can turn off your location through your phone’s settings. Third, you can control ad preferences on Instagram through Facebook. We wrote a Master List of Privacy Settings for Everything in January 2020 that includes a link to get to Facebook ad preferences.

The bottom line: Is Instagram safe for kids?

Due to COPPA, we discourage middle school usage, but from a practical perspective, we know that many parents are going to allow it. Parents, please know the risks and parent accordingly. If you’ve read the information above, you are now plenty informed about what your children might be exposed to.

In our opinion, Instagram is an age 15+ app when you weigh all of the features and risks above. 

Now What? Have you Heard of Bark?

Are you interested in having greater insight into the social media platforms that your kids are using? Bark is one of the best platforms we’ve tested. They’re constantly looking for ways to dig further into apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and others, to keep parents informed about the information that matters. We trust them and we think you should, too!

Bark Parental Controls[Click here or the logo above to visit Bark – free to begin!]

*There are affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Enjoy! Protect Young Eyes Logo

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