Is Instagram Safe for Kids?
A Complete App Profile for Parents
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.” Recent updates to release its “stories” feature with fun customizations make the app even more appealing as it goes head-to-head with Snapchat.
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), which applies to websites and online services that collect personal information.
What do parents need to know about Instagram?
Voice direct messages (added 12/10/18): users can now send voice DMs (direct messages) up to one minute long.
4-way video calling: Instagram Direct now allows users to video-chat with up three friends (four total people). TechCrunch explains the new feature in more detail.
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)?
Porn and tons 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, and very easily hidden by erasing search history. We’ve written a detailed blog post about the abundance of porn available on Instagram, how pornographers are gaming the system, and how easy it is for kids to see straight-up video sex on Instagram.
Related post: Instagram’s Porn Problem (Instaporn)
How to report pornographic or abusive content:
- Tap “…” in the top right corner of the offending user profile or specific post. Or, if it’s a comment, swipe left on the comment itself and tap the exclamation mark in the stop sign.
- For a comment, tap, “Abusive Comment.”
- If it’s a message, tap and hold on the message and then tap Report.
- You can turn off commenting on an individual post. If you do this, any existing comments that are currently on a post will be hidden. If you turn commenting back on for a post, previous comments will be restored and people will be able to comment again.
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 (which is why it’s so important to read the blog post above about Instaporn).
The app is a self-esteem killer. 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.
There are a few, but minimal parental controls. The Instagram app itself does come with some controls in the settings that can help mitigate bullying activity by blocking comments, turning comments off, reporting comments, etc. If you want to do more, then do 3 things:
- Check their phone from time to time.
- Set the account to private.
- Have Instagram yourself and follow their account.
- Use BARK. It’s the only solution that gives you any insight into Instagram activity.
More about “private” accounts. This makes would-be followers ask permission to follow, and only allows followers to see 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 trash, and since it’s so easy to erase search history, you will never know.
How to set your child’s Instagram account to private
A private account enables users to select who can access and follow what they post. Public accounts can be seen and followed by anyone, approved or not.
- Open up Instagram.
- Tap your child’s profile picture in the bottom right corner.
- At the top right of the screen, tap the three stacked horizontal lines.
- A screen will slide open to the left. At the bottom, click the gear, Settings.
- Scroll down and tap Account Privacy.
- Tap to toggle and enable Private Account.
Giving away photo geo-location can be unsafe. Is it possible for strangers to see the location where your child snaps photos? With a public profile, YES. The default setting on Instagram’s photo maps is set to “OFF,” but it’s very easy to change. Learn how to control location settings here!
There’s unfiltered internet access! Users can gain access to unfiltered internet searches in Google, Bing, and Yahoo through the Instagram Blog, which has a link to Twitter at the very bottom. When you click on it, you’re instantly taken to Instagram’s Twitter page, still within the Instagram app. Now, perform a search at the top for Google, Bing or Yahoo’s Twitter page, and on each, you’ll find a link to “google.com”, “bing.com” or “yahoo.com” where you can click and search (again, still within Instagram). It’s obscure, and teens would have to work pretty hard to identify this hole, but it’s there and parents need to know.
Sub-apps are available: Instagram also allows access to Tumblr. Users just click on their user profile (the icon on the bottom furthest to the right), then the settings gear top right, then click “Blog” towards the bottom. A link to Tumblr is waiting at the top of the Blog, where you can find an endless assortment of porn. GIPHY access is now available for users to post GIF stickers to their stories. While it may be fun, this app opens the door to more inappropriate and unmonitored content.
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,” which we’ve written about extensively), 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.
How to block cruel accounts
- Tap the offending user’s username or profile photo. This will take you to their profile.
- Tap the “…” in the top right corner.
- Tap “Block” in red.
Anti-bullying features. As of July 2019, Instagram added two features to curb cyberbullying. The first is to reduce negative comments by asking if the poster really wants to post that. However, the algorithm may need some tweaking because posting “it sucks youre a loser” did not trigger the algorithm as offensive but “you are a stupid loser I hate you” did. The other feature is to restrict an account. When you restrict someone, only that person and you will be able to see their comments unless you approve them. That person also won’t see when you are active or when you see their direct messages.
Disappearing live videos and messages. Instagram has disappearing live video and messages in order to keep pace with its primary rival, Snapchat.
Would you like to download all of your Instagram content? Follow these instructions laid out by TechCrunch.
Instagram bottom line – is it safe for your kid?
Due to COPPA, we discourage younger middle school usage, but from a practical perspective, we know that many parents are going to allow it. Parents just need to know the risks and understand that it does have a very dark side in terms of content and potential impact on self-image if left unmonitored.
We just do not believe Instagram is the right way for any middle schooler to start his/her adventure into social media. As a general rule, we typically use age 15 as a minimum age for kids to use this app.
Read more about our thoughts about a child’s foray into social media: “What’s the Right Age to Give my Kid Social Media?”
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!
*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!
I love life. Seriously! Each. Day. A. Gift. Former CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director, porn survivor. Current marketing manager for Covenant Eyes and CEO of PYE. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I love guiding parents to teach their kids how to use technology well while protecting them from the bad stuff.