For many parents the debate around when your child should be allowed social media accounts isn’t fading.  The pressure from the children  to be allowed Facebook, Twitter, snapchat and Instagram etc is getting bigger and from a younger age.

Some parents are of the opinion that as you need to be 13 years old to have their accounts (going by their terms and conditions) that there is no discussion.  When a child is that age they can start an account.  But this opinion seems to be in the minority.  And for some reason the most popular account to allow younger children and pre-teens is Instagram.

This is not a debate on if that is right or wrong to ignore the terms and conditions, but about making you as a parent aware of the possible dangers of an Instagram account for a pre-teen.  And the ‘dangers’ don’t suddenly disappear when they hit 13, so the awareness needs to be taught to the older kids too.

If as a parent you are an Instagram user, you probably assume you know all the settings and how to make your child safe.  And you possibly also think it is safe.  Because you have a private account for them and therefore no one can see their photos.

Direct Messaging

When Instagram is seen in very simple terms as a sharing photos app, that  having a private account will stop ‘strangers’ seeing your child’s photos.  But it won’t stop anyone being able to send them messages.   Yes they will have to be approved before they go into the inbox, but it is a click from a curious child to see what someone has to say. And then that person is approved to send messages forever.

And the bigger ‘danger’ is not from Mr Weirdo out in internet land, it is more likely from other kids.  Bullying is such a huge issue now on social media and the are so many hidden ways it can happen.  Through DM’s that get deleted, through a snide comment on an image, through tagging people in horrible photos, through following and unfollowing of friends.  All things that can build up and pre-teens don’t have the capacity to deal with these things, and always know what to do.

The search function

These images are made up of things similar to people you follow, things you have searched, things you have liked, and accounts similar to those you follow and people you follow.  You have no control over what is shown on this tab.  It might be the majority are your sporting interests, fashion things, but then intertwined could be body issues and to the other extreme porn.  It doesn’t happen often but it is there.

And the trouble is, a child would be using Instagram on a device, quite often out of sight as the screen are so small and they may not want to tell you they’ve seen weird things as it might mean you take their account or device away.

Disappearing Photos & Videos

Again with the issue of bullying, these are images that are sent and then disappear once they’ve been seen, so there is no trace.  Perfect for bullying.

So how can you make Instagram Safe?

The very short answer is you can’t.  But it is the same for any social media and internet use, you are going to sit with your child as they use them and monitor every message they get, every request, and every reply they send, you can’t make it safe.

Why is 13 considered OK?

An age had to be picked ad this is when most kids are starting senior schools and it is thought they have a better understanding and maturity to be able to make good choices in what they post, and how to deal with anything that isn’t positive they receive.  But as a parent only you will know what age is right.

But what if I want them to have an account?

If you decide to let them have an account, whatever their age make sure it is protected. See here for what Instagram advises.

They shouldn’t have a photo of themselves as their user image and they shouldn’t use their real name as a user name or in their bio.  They shouldn’t have information about their school or where they live in the bio either.

Having a private account doesn’t mean that the child’s account won’t be searchable, and very often they come up in the parents friends ‘people to follow’ lists.

And then it is down to educating your child about what posting images could mean.

Recently the Children’s Commissioner produced the Growing Up Digital report.  Within this they got lawyers to re write the Instagrams terms and conditions of use in a child friendly way. (page 10)

It highlighted areas that people didn’t realise

“Officially you own any original pictures and videos you post, but we are allowed to use them, and we can let others use them as well, anywhere around the world. Other people might pay us to use them and we will not pay you for that.”

“Although you are responsible for the information you put on Instagram, we may keep, use and share your personal information with companies connected with Instagram. This information includes your name, email address, school, where you live, pictures, phone number, your likes and dislikes, where you go, who your friends are, how often you use Instagram, and any other personal information we find such as your birthday or who you are chatting with, including in private messages (DMs).”

So you need to make your child aware that anything they post in Dm’s, or the main Instagram, regardless of if it is a private account could be shared.  They need to know that anyone they send messages to, could screen grab it and share that too.

This may all sound very over the top for an app that is just a fun photo sharing thing for kids and adults alike?  I am a huge Instagram fan myself, but as an adult I have the awareness and understanding of what I post, how I post and how I use the app.

What to do if you child is bullied or receives inappropriate messages?

The Instagram guide for parents has a section on how to deal with any issues, and advises

“Flag problematic posts. You can report other people’s inappropriate photos, videos or comments—or users who violate Instagram’s community guidelines. Just click on the three dots at the top right of the screen above the post, then on Report. If it’s urgent, email Instagram from the Help Center. You can find the Help Center by tapping the profile icon on the bottom right, then tap (Android users, tap ) in the top right of your profile. Scroll down to the Support section and click Help Center.”

In most primary schools children are not allowed phones and devices in school time, so if bullying happens via social media they are limited of what they can do.  Especially if it is happening to a child under 13, who isn’t meant to have an account.

Pre-teens asking for social media isn’t going away, so parents need to educate themselves on the accounts, how things work and how if they decide to let their children have them, to keep them safe and educate them on what is a good /bad idea to post.



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