Instagram is one of the most popular apps for teens. Nearly three out of every four now use it, according to the Pew Research Center. The company claims it now has more than 1 billion users worldwide, which means your kids have a lot of company!
There are many reasons why teens love sharing photos, videos, and stories on Instagram. But there are also lots of reasons why parents should keep tabs on exactly what their students are doing on the app. The Facebook-owned platform has taken a proactive approach at keeping its users safe, but with widespread reports of bullying, predators, and privacy concerns– we want parents to know all the ins and outs of Instagram.
Watch our updated Instagram Parent App Guide video
What is Instagram?
- Instagram is an app (and a website) built around sharing photos and videos
- The app became so popular that Facebook purchased the platform in April 2012 and has owned it ever since
- Like most social media apps, Instagram allows users to follow others that they’re interested in. This creates a feed on the homepage showing posts from everyone the user follows
- Users can like posts, comment on them, share them, or save them
- Instagram gives users the opportunity to have a public or private profile
- Since its launch, Instagram has expanded the platform to include features like: Instagram Stories, Instagram Direct, IGTV, and Instagram Restrict
Instagram feed: Posts that appear on a user’s profile and the Instagram home page for their followers.
- The Instagram feed is the original feature that made Instagram so popular
- Users can post photos, videos, or IGTV previews to their feed and they will appear on their profile
- Users can comment, like, or share content that is posted to the Instagram feed
Instagram Stories: Temporary video, image, or text posts that disappear after 24 hours.
- Similar to Snapchat, Instagram Stories allows users to post text, images, or videos that will disappear after 24 hours
- Stories can be seen by your followers and if your account is public, anyone can watch your Stories
- Instagram Stories are popular with students because of their temporary nature and the ability to easily add filters to videos
- Users can highlight their Instagram Stories so that they appear on their profile after the initial 24 hour window
- Instead of appearing in a user’s main feed, Stories appear at the top of the Instagram home page
Instagram Direct: Users can chat one-one-one, or in groups, privately so it does not appear in the feed.
- In the upper right hand corner of the Instagram home screen, users can access their direct messages by tapping the paper airplane icon
- Users can send text messages, videos, images, voice messages, GIFs, stickers, and other users’ Instagram stories within Instagram Direct
- Additionally, users can video chat with each other through Instagram Direct
- Anyone can Direct Message a user on Instagram – even if the user they’re messaging has a private account. Users must approve others in Instagram Direct in order to start a conversation
- This is one of the main features we warn parents about because this is where strangers can contact your kids. Also, students might use Instagram Direct to hide their activity from their parents and their parent’s phone bill
- Students might refer to Instagram Direct as “DMs” (direct messages) or “PMs” (private messages)
IGTV: Videos that are longer than 60 seconds.
- In order to compete with YouTube, Instagram created IGTV so that users could post videos longer than 60 seconds to the platform
- In the upper right hand corner of the home screen, next to the Instagram Direct icon, users can navigate to IGTV by tapping the TV icon
- IGTV can be filtered to show the most popular IGTV posts, posts from people a user follows, or by their viewing history
- When a user uploads an IGTV, they have the option to post a preview (less than 60 seconds long) of the video to their Instagram feed
Instagram Discover: The search engine of Instagram.
- By tapping the magnifying glass icon in the lower left hand side of the app, users can search Instagram for all types of posts
- Users can use Instagram Discover to see posts similar to the posts that they engage with or to search for accounts, hashtags, and places
- If a user has a public profile and their post is getting a lot of engagement from their followers, their post may appear in the Discover tab and attract new followers
Instagram Saved: A private place where users can save posts to folders.
- Many parents might not know about the Saved feature which allows users to save posts
- Users can create folders and save posts into those folders
- To access the Saved feature, users should navigate to their profile, tap the icon in the upper right hand corner (it looks like 3 lines), and tap Saved
- Following the steps above will allow the user to see all of their Saved posts and folders
Instagram Restrict: A feature introduced in 2019 that helps users have more control over negative comments and cyberbullying.
- Instagram consulted with teens to determine how the platform can help users who are being bullied
- Before Instagram released the Restrict feature, teens said that they were reticent to block bullies on the app because the bully would be notified that they were blocked (which could escalate the situation in real life) and also because when a user blocks someone on Instagram, they give up the ability to see what the bully is doing
- Users can restrict the actions of anyone who posts negative comments or sends offensive messages. Once someone has been restricted, the user who restricted them has to approve their comments before they’re posted
- The user and the user who has been restricted can see the comment but it will not appear to others unless approved
- Direct messages from a restricted user will appear in a separate inbox and if the original user chooses to read the message, the restricted user will not be notified
- To restrict someone: Users swipe left on the person’s comment, use the privacy tab in settings, or go directly to the profile of the account they want to restrict
What can go wrong on Instagram:
There are several reports of Instagram resulting in real life repercussions, including: getting suspended from school, being fired from a job/internship, being detained by police, and getting into physical danger.
NBC reports that a high school student was banned from attending graduation after refusing to remove pictures from their Instagram
According to an article from NBC, a student was disenrolled and banned from attending graduation ceremonies after they refused to remove pictures from their Instagram account.
An assistant dean told the student that the photos violated school policies and gave them a choice, take specific pictures down, or be disenrolled from school.
Business Insider shares a round up article of a dozen people who faced consequences at work due to their activity on Instagram
From an article on Business Insider: Instagram has incredible reach with over 300 million monthly active users. But that also means one mistake could go a long way.
This article highlights how Instagram users have faced real life consequences at work due to their posts on the app.
In an interview with BBC, a father claims Instagram helped kill his daughter who committed suicide
In an interview with BBC, the father of a teen who committed suicide said that he has no doubt the Instagram helped kill his daughter.
According to Dallas Morning News, a middle school was taken into police custody after making a vague threat on Instagram
The Dallas Morning News reports: “Lt. Stephen Biggs said the language of the threat was very vague, and did not specify any type of weapon or specific harm that would come to students. It instead gave a general warning to those attending school”
Instagram in the news:
Instagram is one of the most popular social media networks among teenagers and a likely place for teens to be bullied… Instagram has been criticized as providing a unique set of tools that enable bullying. It’s easy to set up anonymous profiles that can then be used to troll others. The scale of the platform allows hurtful comments or harassing posts to go viral. And while parents and teachers may be able to observe and stop bullying that happens face-to-face, online bullying is often hidden.–NPR
For a growing number of users and mental health experts, the positivity of Instagram is precisely the problem, with its relentless emphasis on promoting ‘perfect’ lifestyles.–The Guardian
Michigan State Police say recently Instagram has become the No. 1 social media site to find predators lurking behind each click.–ABC
Instagram has a massive harassment problem. The platform has cast itself as the internet’s kindest place. But users argue harassment is rampant, and employees say efforts to stem it aren’t funded well or prioritized… Several things make Instagram a uniquely fertile breeding ground for harassment. First of all, it’s huge: More than 1 billion people use the platform every month. That’s much larger than the other default-public social network–The Atlantic
Why should parents care?
- Instagram is incredibly popular with students
- The app has been known to be a breeding ground for bullying behavior, a place for users to sell or buy drugs, and a platform that can have a negative impact on a child’s mental health
- In an effort to gain more followers, likes, or attention, some users might behave in negative or dangerous ways
- Instagram can have a serious impact on your student’s digital footprint. When used in a positive way it can help them during the college or job application process. On the other hand, when Instagram is used in a negative way, it can have serious real world repercussions like the news stories we’ve talked about earlier in this guide
- There are several reports of predators using Instagram to target and groom their victims
- It’s not uncommon for students to have a second (or secret) Instagram account called a “Finstagram” – we created a guide about these secret accounts to help keep their children safe. Read more about Finstagram here.
- In 2019, a research team at BuzzFeed found that privately posted Instagram and Facebook content, including Stories, could be shared by friends or followers — and Stories content seemed to stay live well past its 24-hour expiration date. Using a basic understanding of HTML, the team discovered that one can easily access source URLs for the privately posted content and share those with people who do not follow — or are not friends with — the user. Meaning content that was intended to remain private was easily accessible to strangers
The positive side of Instagram and how it can be used by students as an extension of their resume:
Instagram isn’t all bad, in fact, when used correctly Instagram can drastically improve a student’s search results and digital footprint. Students want to be on Instagram which makes it a fun place for them to learn how to create a personal brand that helps them shine online.
By the time students are 13-14 years old, they should be planning for their future and creating a private portfolio of accomplishments to one day share online. When students are 15 years old, they should make their portfolio public as a website that helps them shine online so that at the age of 17 colleges and future employers can find a positive online footprint.
How Instagram can help or hurt a student’s future:
- You describe in your resume/application your accomplishments and skills. You are trying hard to be an exceptional candidate, because you want to be selected over others
- Instagram can be a great way to support your story, or it can be a diversion from it
- Photos quickly show the college admission officers and employers what your hobbies are, who your friends are, and what you will do in your free time on campus
- If they can’t quickly find your account e.g. your account is private or you use a fake name, then they will keep searching and perhaps find someone else that looks like you with the same name (or get frustrated and confused)
- So when you embrace Instagram as an extension of your student resume, use it in a safe way, and post content that builds your personal brand, you have a chance to use the platform in a way that can help you achieve your goals
What can parents do?
- Before giving your child access to an app, download it, spend some time using it, then determine if the app is safe for your family
- Always be on the apps your students use
- If your child is new to social media, create a cell phone and social media safety contract and have access to their usernames and passwords
- Have regular discussions with your children about Instagram and encourage them to always talk to you if they experience anything uncomfortable online
- Remind your children that their online activity (even under a fake username) can impact their reputation
- When you’re ready for your student to be on Instagram, take our course on How To Be Positive On Instagram that’s included in our Digital Driver’s Ed program
Instagram can have a positive impact on your student’s digital footprint, as long as they’re using it responsibly. Parents should closely monitor their kid’s Instagram accounts and should stay informed as the app continually offers updates and new features.
We created these parent video guides for Instagram to help you better understand this popular student app
Listen to this episode on our podcast: