Instagram: What parents need to know

From photo editing, to video streaming, content sharing, private messaging, and even viral video challenges- Instagram is the social media platform that just keeps adding more. To help parents keep up with this ever-evolving platform, we’ve put together our top tips on what parents need to know.

Written by Cyber Expert:

Taryn Wren

ICT Teacher

Instagram is a social media platform that is focused on sharing and viewing photo and video content. Instagram is owned by Facebook, and like Facebook, there are lots of different things that users can do through the platform.

You can sign up for an Instagram account using either a phone number or email address. Once your account has been created, you can ‘follow’ others (think Facebook ‘friending’ equivalent), like and comment on posts, share and edit photos and short videos, send and receive private messages, video call, and view and share live streamed videos (amongst other things). With so many features available through the platform, keeping up with how teens are using Instagram is no easy task! We’ve put together the guide below to help parents stay informed and prepare themselves for the “Can I get Instagram?” conversation.

Features

Stories

Stories ExampleStories is a feature that allows users to share vlog style photos and videos with their audience without the content remaining visible through their feed (profile album). This feature is generally used to update close friends or broader audiences on the highlights throughout a user’s day. Users can apply filters, stickers, and even interactive games and polls to their story. Viewers can interact with the story creator by voting on polls or responding to stories directly through a private message. Many users enjoy watching the stories of celebrities as it offers a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of their idols. Stories last for 24-hours and users can curate their story audience, meaning they can select who each post within their story is visible to. Users can also see who has viewed their story. 

Teens can be very strategic with what they share  with who through their story. Parents should be aware that following your child on Instagram is no guarantee that you’re seeing everything that they share through their story. 

Stories appear at the top of your Instagram feed. You can check to see if a specific user is sharing a visible story by going to their profile and tapping their profile picture (a highlighted ring around their profile picture indicates that a story is being shared).

Direct Messages

Heard of ‘sliding into the DM’s’? What about ‘HMU in privs?’ Lingo aside, Instagram allows users to send and receive direct (private) messages. Direct messages can be accessed by tapping the ‘send mail’ icon at the top right hand corner of your Instagram feed. Messages can be sent to individuals or groups, and in addition to sending text, users can share audio, images, and make video calls through the direct messages area of the platform.

Teens have been known to use Instagram as a bit of a hunting ground for potential love interests. The process (yes - there is an art to this) generally involves following the user you are interested in, and then sending them a direct message, either in response to a story or post, or out of the blue (aka- “sliding into the DM’s”). 

Hashtags

Hashtags Example

When a user shares a post on Instagram, they can choose to include #hashtags in their caption. Hashtags are used to catagorise content- they can indicate that a post is a part of a viral trend, or that it contains a particular type of content. Users can search for content on Instagram using hashtags, meaning that if a user’s profile is public, using hashtags in a photo or video caption will add their post to a publicly discoverable library alongside others that have used that same hashtag.

Young people that are wanting to build an audience on Instagram (i.e. boost their follower numbers - perhaps to pursue becoming an ‘Influencer’) will often use lots of trending hashtags to make their content more discoverable. For example, fashion bloggers will use hashtags like #ootd (outfit of the day).

Live

Instagram’s ‘Live’ feature allows users to share what they are doing with their followers in real time through live video. When a user goes live, the audience can engage and ask questions through a chat that appears at the bottom of the video. The Live feature is typically used by Instagram users with a large following to engage with their fan base.

IGTV

Think YouTube- Instagram allows users to create, share and view longer videos that are hosted in an area of the app known as IGTV. You can see IGTV videos created by a specific user through their profile, or you can search for videos using a creator’s name or keywords through Instagram’s search. Just like YouTube, if a user is scrolling through IGTV they will be presented with curated content.

Creating IGTV videos is not overly common for just your average Instagram user. This feature is more commonly used by Influencers (people and brands that have a large following on the platform).

Influencers

“Influencers” are social media users who have a large following and are regarded as having the ability to ‘influence’ the behaviour of their audience, particularly when it comes to purchasing products. Influencers can be a legitimate profession where creators are paid to endorse or feature a particular product across their social media platforms. Instagram is one of the primary platforms used for Influencer marketing.

Many teens using Instagram aspire to become an Influencer. This objective is often associated with a reluctance to implement privacy settings because they want to capture as big an audience as possible.

Filters

Instagram has a range of filters that can be applied to photos and videos through the app’s camera. Many users will also use additional apps (such as VSCO or FaceTune) to edit and filter their photos prior to uploading them to Instagram.

Reels

Reels is Instagram’s latest feature. Functionally, Reels is very similar to TikTok. It’s a short-form viral video feature that is focussed around getting involved in global video trends. We have created a more detailed piece on Reels which you can find here.

Risks

Cyberbullying

Unfortunately, Instagram can be used as a channel for cyberbullying, despite the platform having introduced numerous tools and systems to help stamp the problem out. One of the most persistent and serious methods of cyberbullying through the platform is the creation of accounts used to anonymously ridicule, maliciously impersonate, or ‘expose’ (share private or personal information) a target. Other methods can involve making nasty comments on other users' posts, sending threatening or harassing private messages, or sharing unkind or unflattering posts intended to embarrass or upset someone.

Strangers

Instagram can be used as a platform to connect with strangers. Whilst it’s important to remember that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the people teens connect with through the platform are ‘bad’, there are risks associated with meeting people via the internet. 

Teens in particular have been known to use Instagram as a bit of a hunting ground for new romantic interests. In fact, this phenomenon is so common it’s been given a name- ‘sliding into the DM’s’ (that’s direct messages for anyone who isn’t fluent in Millennial). This becomes particularly risky where teens are connecting with people through Instagram, then moving the conversation across to a more private platform like Snapchat, where there is less visibility for parents to supervise and the ability to share location information and disappearing content.

Inappropriate Content

Some of the content available through Instagram is inappropriate for younger audiences. A quick search of the words “porn” or “porno” will give you a very clear understanding of what I’m talking about. Parents should also be aware that online gambling and pornography platforms will have a presence on Instagram (because it’s a high-reach marketing tool for them), making it easy for users to locate external websites hosting more graphic content.

Consumerism, FOMO & Self-Esteem

Whilst Instagram is free to use, it is as much an advertising and marketing tool as it is a platform for sharing and connecting. Advertisements appear in user’s news feeds as sponsored content, and paid brand and product endorsements also come through Influencers themselves. Younger users may find it difficult to understand that sponsored content or Influencer endorsements are in advertisements, and may feel pressure to keep up with rapidly changing trends.

Instagram is known for showing the ‘Highlight Reel’. Teen girls in particular are prone to social comparison and have reported experiencing FOMO (a fear of missing out), jealousy, and lowered self-esteem using Instagram.

How can I make Instagram safer for my child?

01.
Set Up Accounts for Safety

If your teen is just starting out on Instagram, jointly setting up accounts is a good way to ensure that safety is a consideration from the get go. Consider creating the account using your email address, so that you can maintain control over the account settings. Ensure that privacy settings are properly implemented and talk through the safety and privacy management tools available through the platform. Instagram’s Privacy and Safety Centre includes step-by-step guides to help facilitate this process. 

During the signup process, you will be asked to provide your birth date. Ensure the date you enter reflects your child’s age and not your own, as content and advertisements will be targeted based on this age (using a higher age could result in your child being presented with age-inappropriate content).

When you create an Instagram account, the account will be set to public by default. You will need to go into the account settings, select ‘Privacy and Security’, and check the box for a ‘Private Account’. Under ‘Privacy and Security’, we also recommend de-selecting ‘Show Activity Status’ (which shows other users when you are online) and ‘Story Sharing’ (which allows others to share your story as private messages), both of which are turned on by default. You can also apply comment filters through this section, which hide comments that contain user-specified words or phrases. Finally, we recommend that you change ‘Photos of You’ to be added manually rather than automatically.

02.
Set Boundaries

In collaboration with your child, establish some boundaries around how they should behave when using social media. Some things you should consider:

  • Who should your child allow to follow them? Can they accept follow requests from anyone or are there certain criteria that need to be met (for example, ‘you are only allowed to accept follow requests from people you know in person through school, sports, etc’).

  • Are there any people/pages that they are not allowed to follow?

  • What content is OK/not OK to share on Instagram? Are photos in bathing suites OK or not? What about photos featuring sporting or school uniforms?

  • What do they need to be aware of when commenting on the posts of, or private messaging others? 

  • What should they do if they run into trouble or see something that makes them feel uncomfortable?

03.
Promote Help Seeking

Ensure your child is aware of how to use the in-platform controls to block, report, or manage inappropriate or unwanted contact received through Instagram (see help guides here). Let them know that they can always come and talk to you or *provide alternative trusted adults* if they ever have any questions or concerns about something that has happened online. Finally, show them how they can access help from the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner using their online tools for reporting cyber bullying and other forms of online abuse (available here).

04.
Supervise and Stay Involved

With your child, come up with a method for supervising their social media. This could involve following them on Instagram, or having access to their Instagram account from your device so that you can periodically check their activity (we recommend letting them know if you are choosing to do this). Finally, show interest and make their online activities a regular point in your home.

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