Instagram is one of the most popular apps for teens. The Pew Research Center says 72% of teens have said they use the Instagram app.
This SmartSocial.com guide helps parents and educators easily understand how Instagram works and how students can stay safe while using it to create, share, and view content.
What is the Instagram app?
- Instagram is an app (and a website) built around sharing photos and videos
- Facebook, Inc. purchased the platform in April 2012
- Instagram users follow other users to see their photos and videos
- Users can like, comment on, share, or save others’ photos and videos
- Accounts can be public or private and this setting can be changed at any time
- Free to create and use, but users see advertisements relevant to their interests based on their account data and usage data tracked by Facebook, Inc.
Where is Instagram available?
- App Store: 12+
- Google Play: T (Teen)
- Official website: Instagram.com (Owned by Facebook, Inc.)
Who can use Instagram?
- Instagram policy states users must be at least 13 years old
- Instagram allows users to make up to 5 accounts per login (Read more about Finstagram)
What can go wrong with using Instagram?
There are reports of serious, real-life repercussions from poor decisions made when using Instagram including getting suspended from school, being fired from a job/internship, being detained by police, and getting into physical danger.
Molly Russell, 14, took her own life in 2017. When her family looked into her Instagram account they found distressing material about depression and suicide. Molly’s father Ian says he believes Instagram is partly responsible for his daughter’s death. – BBC
Features of Instagram
- Feed: shows posts from everyone a user follows
- Stories: temporary video, image, or text posts that generally disappear after 24 hours, but hackers can manipulate this function
- Direct: private one-on-one or group chats that do not appear in the users’ feeds
- Reels: users can record and edit 15-second, multi-clip, videos with audio, effects, and other creative tools
- IGTV: videos that are 1 to 60 minutes (similar to TikTok videos)
- Discover: search engine for Instagram. Most popular users are highlighted in the discover screen
- Saved: users can save posts to folders to view later
- Restrict: allows users to restrict the actions from anyone on their posts without the other user knowing they have been restricted
- Shopping: allows users to tap on brand tags to save them to wish lists or buy through Instagram’s checkout process connected to Facebook Pay
Hidden likes in Instagram
In 2019 Instagram started hiding “likes” for certain users and is implementing with a percentage of users in various countries over time. While each user can still see the likes their own posts garner, when scrolling through your Instagram feed, you may not see the number of likes on posts from users you are following.
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
What should parents know?
- Instagram is incredibly popular with students
- Instagram can have a severe impact on your student’s digital footprint.
- When used in a positive way Instagram can help them during the college or job application process
- When Instagram is used in a negative way it can have serious real-world repercussions on your student’s mental health. Read more about the negative effects of social media
- 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
- The app has been known for bullying behavior
- Instagram, like other social media apps, are known places for users to sell or buy drugs. View the Smart Social Drugs on Social Media: What Parents Need to know
- Like other social media apps, predators can use Instagram to target and groom their victims
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
- Talk with your student about the pros and cons of their account being public or private
- Remind your children that their online activity (even under a fake username) can impact their reputation
- Talk about the dangers of talking with people online who they don’t know in real life
- Discuss with your student how and when to control comments on posts, and how to block, restrict or even report other users to Instagram for bullying
- Let your students know they can come to you if they experience anything uncomfortable online
- Help your student make decisions on managing the amount of time they spend on the app and consider using Instagram’s “Daily Reminder” or “Mute Push Notification” functions or setting App Limits through Apple’s Screen Time feature or another parental control software to help
- Remind your students not to participate in dangerous challenges or stunts on Instagram for social media attention
- Dialog with your students about quality of relationships vs quality of likes. Let them know they can always talk to you if being on Instagram causes them to feel sad, anxious or less focused on their school work
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.
In grades 6th-8th students should consider planning for their accomplishments to one day share publicly online.
In grades 9th-12th students should consider making their portfolio public as a website so that their positive online footprint can be found by colleges and future employers. (We walk students through this process in the Student Branding Academy.)
How Instagram can help or hurt a student’s future:
- A student’s resume and application highlight their accomplishments and skills
- Instagram can be a great way to support the resume or application, or it can be a diversion from being an exceptional candidate
- Photos and videos on Instagram quickly show the college admission officers or future employers what your hobbies are, who your friends are, and what you do in your free time
- If an admission officer or hiring manager 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 who looks like you with the same name (or get frustrated and confused)
- When you embrace Instagram as an extension of your student’s resume, use it in a safe way, and only post content that builds your personal brand
Instagram walkthrough videos for parents
Instagram Reels: Another TikTok?
Instagram App: Everything parents need to know
How the 2019 React Feature Reduces Bullying
Instagram can have a positive impact on your student’s digital footprint, as long as they are using it responsibly. Parents should have conversations with their students about appropriate behavior in the app and monitor their student’s Instagram accounts and who they are in direct communication with.
When you’re ready for your student to be on Instagram, take our workshop on How To Be Positive On Instagram (included in our SmartSocial.com VIP Membership).