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The internet has unlocked endless possibilities, giving people the ability to interact with the world like never before. It has paved the way for social media to be created; which is the name for a group of digital apps that can be used on any device connected to the internet, such apps include, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter etc.
Social media was initially created to connect with friends all over the world. As it has grown in popularity, its functionality has increased to become a staple in modern-day life.
Social media has taken the world by storm, with the younger generation in particular. It is used daily by many young people, and many children do not know life without it. It has created an online world where users can connect with others, share forms of media, and be entertained; creating new ways to socialise, share ideas, and have fun.
If you are a parent or carer, you may have heard of some social media platforms but may not be familiar with their function. It is common for users to spend many hours per day scrolling through social media channels, and you may be wondering how they spend so much time doing this. Social media is extremely engaging with such a wide variety of information available, but with this comes an element of risk.
Social media use can become an addictive habit, and presents many risks for child users. There are many different online platforms that fall under the social media bracket, but this article will focus on a guide to Instagram. Continue reading below to find out more about Instagram, and how safe it is for young users.
What is Instagram?
Instagram is a social media platform that is primarily used to share photos online (but short videos up to one minute in duration can also be uploaded). To become a user, people must create an account with their email address. Once the account is open, users will have their own profile page.
The profile page is often referred to as a user’s grid, because it displays as a grid of images uploaded by the person. Users can follow their friends on Instagram as well as celebrities and influencers, who offer insights into their life as well as their work.
Like many other social media platforms, users have the ability to like, comment, or even share a piece of content to their own story on the app. This has the ability to reach millions of users, with the platform having almost 33.5 million users in the UK alone!
Instagram stories are images or short video clips that you can post instantly, to share your current activity or a piece of content from someone else. The content that is shared on the stories feature is available for other users to view for 24 hours, after which it is permanently removed from the platform.
Instagram has quickly grown in popularity and has expanded to include even more features such as:
- Feed post – This is where photos or videos are uploaded to your individual profile grid. Once uploaded they may also appear in the home screen feed for your followers to view and interact with.
- Stories – Share content for other users to view for up to 24 hours.
- Live – Start a live video for other users to watch in real time. Users can send in comments during your live to interact with you instantly.
- Highlights – Users can save stories that have been uploaded as a highlight. The highlight will appear at the top of the user’s profile grid to view outside of the 24-hour story window.
- IGTV – This allows users to create long form videos on the platform. Videos can be saved onto IGTV that are up to an hour long. The videos are saved on the IGTV section on a user’s profile, and they can also be shared onto stories.
- Reels – Reels are another addition on a person’s profile page. Reels are short form videos that are recorded to music and effects that are up to 15 seconds long.
- Direct messaging – As with all social media platforms, Instagram provides all users with a personal inbox so that users can send messages to each other privately.
Instagram is often described as an easy platform to use as it is focused on photo sharing. Its photo focus provides easy to use photo editing tools so that users can edit their photos with filters and standard editing features prior to publishing them. It is owned by the owner of Facebook which gives the platform added functionality to link social media accounts; so that Instagram content can be shared simultaneously onto Facebook.
Instagram has grown in popularity over its 10-year history, especially among younger users. There are age restrictions to the platform, with users having to be 13 years old before setting up an account. This is to help promote child safety as there can be some risks to children using social media platforms.
However, there is no proof of age requirement during sign-up so there is nothing stopping children younger than 13 from creating a profile; except from parental supervision. 7.3% of Instagram’s users are aged between 13 and 17 years old, and this is continuing to grow; highlighting its increased appeal to young users.
What are the dangers?
Instagram is heavily image focused which naturally presents a lot of risks to child users. Users can interact with photos and videos through likes and comments which can drive a desire to gain more likes. If a user’s photo does not get any likes, it can negatively affect their self-esteem, confidence and mood, and initiate anxiety.
This can have an extended affect off the platform, whereby a user may try to change their appearance or lifestyle in the hope of getting more likes from other people. Instagram’s photo editing feature can also create a false sense of image. Users may compare themselves to other people’s photos that have been filtered and edited and become conscious of their own image.
They could make unrealistic comparisons and place pressure on themselves to look like a false sense of ‘perfect’. It can also give rise to bullying, by people leaving hateful comments on a person’s photo, or by being bullied for not having many likes on their content.
There are many image trends that circulate, encouraging users to take photos using specific angles to portray a different look. With children and young people this can be extremely harmful because they are impressionable and seek validation on the platform.
It can give rise to an identity crisis in young users, who are already dealing with their development through puberty. They may strive to look or act like an Instagram influencer instead of being happy being themselves.
As well as image trends being damaging to children’s mental health, there is also explicit content on the platform that is inappropriate for young users. Some images and videos shared by users or celebrities can be of a sexual nature and may encourage children to share inappropriate photos of themselves.
The platform’s video features also mean that explicit song lyrics and offensive language can be shared. Instagram does have policies in place regarding the content allowed on the platform, but sometimes there may be explicit content that does not get monitored.
When a user’s profile is public, anybody can add comments to a photo or send a direct message to a user’s inbox. This presents the risk of abusers reaching out to children and young people to exploit them.
Online abuse continues to rise and although there are many measures taken to ensure abusers are removed from the platform and prosecuted, there is still a risk of some going undetected. Abusers could groom Instagram users and then encourage them to meet off the platform, or even encourage young users to complete harmful acts.
That is why it is crucial to understand Instagram parental controls and how to stay safe on the platform. Criminals that target children online can try to build a relationship with the user and persuade them to keep the relationship a secret; making it harder for parents, carers, and Instagram to detect the abuse. You can find out more about children keeping quiet about abuse here.
All social media platforms can be addictive due to the endless amount of content available. Instagram now has many features, which can create a culture of fear of missing out (FOMO) among young users. This can lead to children spending many hours per day on the platform, reducing their real-life social interaction and physical activity.
The habit can become so severe that users may lose sleep from using the app during the night. Recently, advocates have protested against the owners of Instagram creating a version of the app specifically for children. Advocates are worried that targeting a younger audience with a social media app may be harmful to their health and wellbeing, leaving more children at risk of cyberbullying and abuse.
Instagram safety tips
The dangers above can cause parents and carers to question whether Instagram is safe. However, there are many safety tips that can be incorporated to make a child’s experience age appropriate and enjoyable. Instagram have a parent’s guide to keeping children safe to promote healthy digital habits.
We have also included some tips in our Instagram guide below:
- Private profile – Instagram profiles can be public or private. A public profile means that the user’s profile is visible to everybody on the platform and anybody can interact with them. A private profile ensures that only people that the user has chosen to follow can view and interact with their content. Parents can set their child’s Instagram page to private to ensure that no strangers can interact with them on the platform. Instagram continues to introduce ways to protect children on its platform and has recently included new tools to protect young users from being contacted by strangers.
- Not accepting follow requests – If a user’s profile is set to private, other people can still request to follow them. Parents should discuss this with their child to advise them not to accept follow requests from anyone other than friends that they know in real life.
- Blocking and unfollowing – If your child starts to see inappropriate content, or receive interaction from users that they do not know, there is an option to unfollow the user so they no longer have to view their content. There is also a block feature that your child can use to prevent a user from accessing their profile. This will prevent all interaction from a user on the platform.
- Reporting – If you or your child see any inappropriate content, as well as using the safety tips above, you can report the content to Instagram directly. This is an in-app feature that will flag the user to Instagram moderators who will then take action.
- Sharing content – As well as protecting your child from other people’s actions on the app, you can have discussions with your child about the type of content appropriate to share.
- Healthy communication – Parents can continue to have open communication with their children to ensure that they are staying safe online. This can help children to express any worries they may have and allow you to understand how they are using the app. When holding these discussions, you can explain that the content on Instagram (as with all social media platforms) is only a snapshot of a person’s life, to ensure that they are consuming content healthily.
There are many terms used to describe different features of Instagram that some parents may have heard of.
We have included definitions to these terms below to help parents promote their child’s safety on Instagram:
- Direct message – Receiving a message in the personal inbox.
- Like – A love heart icon featured under all content that can be pressed by users to show that they like the content.
- Hashtag – A word or phrase used (with no spaces) to categorise content.
- Post – An image uploaded onto a user’s profile.
- Story – Share an image or video that can be viewed for up to 24 hours.
- Live – Share live video with your followers.
- Bio – A short, written snippet included on individual profiles, similar to an ‘about you’ section.
- Comment – A written comment on a piece of content.
- Filters – A filter can be applied when taking a photo from the Instagram app to alter appearance.
- Reels – Short videos that are recorded to music and effects that are up to 15 seconds long.
- Location – Add a location to the content that is uploaded.
- Accounts – Users sign up to Instagram by creating an account.
Unfortunately, there are some instances where Instagram use has resulted in tragedy. Despite the safety measures that can be taken, it is important to remember that with any social media app, the volume of users and pieces of content available can make it impossible to be entirely safe.
In 2017 the teenage daughter of a parent sadly died after viewing harmful content on the Instagram app. Instagram had failed to identify some extremely harmful content that encouraged suicide, leading to catastrophic outcomes for the family.
Parents must always be involved in their child’s online life and cannot rely solely on the app’s built-in safety mechanisms. By understanding how a child uses the app and discussing this regularly, parents can have better assurance of their child’s safety.
Instagram is growing in popularity among younger users due to its easy to use features and visually engaging appeal. It can be a place for children and young people to get creative, have fun, and socialise with friends, but the dangers explained in this guide cannot be ignored.
Social media is a group of digital tools that are here to stay, and continue to be a key feature of contemporary society. As well as our Instagram guide for parents, we have other social media safety guides in our knowledge base that you may be interested in, such as our Facebook guide for parents.
Like all platforms, it is crucial for parents to utilise Instagram parental controls and remain engaged with the latest trends and features. Doing so ensures your child has the best chance of staying safe on the platform.