Instagram App Guide (2023): What Parents, Educators, & Students Need to Know

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March 22, 2023

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Attention parents! Equip yourselves with valuable knowledge and tools to help your children navigate the world of Instagram safely and responsibly. In our program, you'll discover:

  • Strategies for meaningful conversations about using Instagram for more than just entertainment. Without proper guidance, excessive app usage can lead to addiction and negatively impact your child's mental health, social skills, and academic performance.
  • The importance of discussing the potential harm of fake Instagram accounts. A "Finstagram" can damage your child's online reputation and expose them to risky behavior. Learn to identify the signs and protect their digital footprint.
  • Encouraging your child to use Instagram as a showcase of their positive achievements. By not actively building a positive online presence, they may miss out on future opportunities, as colleges and employers increasingly consider social media profiles during selection processes.
  • Guidelines for monitoring and discussing your child's Instagram activity. Unsupervised activity can expose them to cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and online predators. Stay informed and ensure their safety in the digital realm.
  • Expert recommendations and step-by-step instructions for managing screen time. Excessive screen time can lead to sleep problems, sedentary behavior, and reduced family interaction. Learn how to create a healthy balance for your child.
  • Effective techniques to foster healthy family discussions each month about Instagram and online experiences. By not addressing issues like bullying, predatory behavior, and drug-related content, your child may feel isolated or become more susceptible to negative influences. Open dialogue can help keep them safe and informed.

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Learn why parents and educators should care about Instagram

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Quotation marks

This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!


Sharon M.

Parent VIP Member

Quotation marks

Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.


Director of College Advising

Educator Webinar Attendee

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This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.


Irene C.

Educator Webinar Attendee

Table of Contents

Instagram is one of the most popular social media apps for teens, second only to TikTok according to the Pew Research Center. It is an extremely visual platform, which allows teens to creatively edit their images and photos in order to gain the attention of other users on the platform. Many teens are in the habit of checking Instagram frequently during the day, and although teens speak highly of the app, research shows that social media can have negative effects on teens' mental health (Source: Statista). 

In this Instagram app guide, parents, students, and educators will learn how students can use Instagram in a way that is not only safe, but may even help them get into their dream college or land their dream job. 

Students: Download this worksheet to follow along with the videos

Top Concerns about Instagram

  • The Instagram algorithm is designed to be addictive and to keep students watching for as long as possible (Source: Time)
  • Students may opt to spend time on Instagram instead of connecting with friends in real life or participating in other activities
  • Instagram allows students to chat with strangers on the platform and may connect them with online predators who are not who they portray themselves to be

What do students want you to know about Instagram (video)

(This student-friendly video can be shown in the classroom or at home)

Balancing Screen Time on Instagram (for Students and Parents)

(This student-friendly video can be shown in the classroom or at home)

Using Instagram to Shine Online (For Students & Parents)

(This student-friendly video can be shown in the classroom or at home)

What the experts say about Instagram (for parents and educators)

"Take a 5 min social media power scroll each month with guest Emma Lembke" SmartSocial Podcast

How to Keep Teens Safe on Instagram (For Parents)

What is Instagram?

  • Instagram is a social media app owned by Meta (and a website) that has multiple sharing options for photos and videos, including posts, reels, and stories
  • Users must be 13 or older to create an account but students can easily get around the age verification process
  • Accounts can be public or private and this setting can be changed at any time. However, accounts for users under 16 years of age default to private 
  • Instagram can have a serious impact on your student’s digital footprint and what shows in their Google results. When used in a positive way, Instagram can help students during their college or job application process. When Instagram is used in a negative way, however, it may block future opportunities for students

Features of Instagram

Instagram app camera icon
  • Feed: shows both posts from everyone a user follows and advertisements based on data collected by Meta
  • Reels: users can record and edit 15-90 second, multi-clip, videos with audio, effects, and other creative tools (TikTok style) that loop and live on your Instagram profile forever
  • Stories: temporary video, image, or text posts that generally disappear after 24 hours, but hackers can manipulate this function
  • Direct Message: private one-on-one or group chats that do not appear in the users’ feeds
  • Vanishing Mode: When direct messages are sent in Vanish mode, they will disappear after they are viewed.  To send a vanishing message, open up a chat message and swipe up.  The screen will turn black and go into “Vanish mode”
  • Live: users can start a live broadcast of video and audio
  • Discover: search engine for Instagram. Most popular users are highlighted in the discover screen with an endless stream of content aimed at keeping the user engaged and scrolling
  • 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.  Users can also scroll through brands that Instagram’s algorithm thinks the user will find appealing
  • Parental Supervision: Instagram’s parental controls program

Where is Instagram available?

App Store: 12+

Google Play Store: T (Teen) 

Official website: (Owned by Meta)

Privacy Policy

Terms of Use

What should parents know?

  • Students may create additional accounts called “finstagrams” that parents are not aware of so they can post and send direct messages without being supervised. Instagram allows up to five accounts per app so students may use it to share Instagram posts that they don't want you to see
  • Instagram is making an effort to keep teens from ‘potentially suspicious adults’
  • Adults cannot send direct messages to teens they aren’t connected with and won’t see those user accounts in their ‘People You May Know’ recommendations
  • Teens will be prompted to report or block adult users they do not know in real life
  • Instagram changed its advertising strategy with minors. They no longer share data on interests, hobbies, and activity on other sites with advertisers.  The advertisements shown to users under 18 years old will only be based on gender, age, and location
  • Sensitive Content Controls allow users to decide how much content shows in search and blocks sensitive content and other potentially suspicious behavior for users under 18 within this social media app
  • The app has been known for bullying behavior and in general, can have a negative impact on a student’s mental health including students acting or making dangerous decisions to gain followers. Read more about the Negative Effects of Social Media
  • Instagram, like other social media apps, are known places for users to sell or buy drugs. Read more about Drugs on Social Media: What Parents Need to Know 
Native Instagram Safety Features

Does your student have a Finstagram (a.k.a. Fake Instagram)?

Example of more than one account
  • There’s one official Instagram app. Instagram says the official app can administer/manage up to 5 Instagram accounts/usernames, but some users report the ability to have even more
  • Students sometimes set up a 2nd account to share with close, personal friends called a Finsta, Fake Instagram, Finstagram, or Spam account
  • There’s a chance your student might be managing a friend’s account for them (or they set up a “fun” account to mock a teacher, admin, or other students at school)
  • Find out more about Finstagram accounts with the Smart Social resource: Finstagram: What Parents Should Know

To check for a 2nd Instagram account, work on your student's phone

  • Tap on their icon in the lower right corner to open their profile page
  • Tap their username at the top
  • Alternate usernames may appear - these are their other accounts

Instagram Guide for Parents

  • Before giving your student access to an app, download it, spend some time using it, then determine if the app is safe for your family
  • If your student already uses Instagram, sit down and have them show you how they use it and their favorite and least favorite parts of the app
  • Consider adding your student’s account to your app.  You will be able to toggle back and forth from your account and theirs to view what they are seeing in their feed
  • We recommend families work together to create a Screen Time and Social Media Agreement so everyone is on the same page and understands responsible social media practices
  • Help your student make decisions on managing the amount of time they spend on the app and consider using Instagram’s “Take a Break,” “Daily Reminder,” or “Mute Push Notification” functions or setting App Limits through Apple’s Screen Time feature or another parental control software
  • Talk with your students about social media challenges or stunts they see on Instagram that may be dangerous or harmful to their online reputation, even if it gets them social media attention

What is Family Center?

Screenshot from Family Center website
  • Family Center is a central website designed by Meta for parents to monitor and set limits for young people on Instagram and to access educational resources
  • This is the first step of many by Meta to allow parents to supervise  accounts of their teens across  all Meta technologies (currently it’s only supporting Instagram and VR)
  • The Education Hub and Safety Center have resources, articles and tips from experts to help parents support their students on Instagram and guide them to a positive experience

What is Parental Supervision?

Screenshot from Supervision page
  • Instagram offers Parental Supervision tools for students between the ages of 13-17 on the app
  • Parents can view how much time their student is spending on Instagram and set time limits from their own account
  • Parents can view and receive updates on the accounts that their student follows and the accounts that follow them
  • Parents can be notified if their student reports someone on Instagram - the parent won’t be notified of who or what was reported
  • ~The notification will appear in the parent’s Instagram notifications
  • Parents must be over 18 years old and have a valid Instagram account
  • Parental Supervision can be turned off by the student or the parent at any time, but the other person will be alerted that it has been turned off
  • Parents can supervise more than one student from the Family Center portal
  • All supervision tools can be accessed from Family Center - a website by Meta offering “tools and resources to help support your teen’s online experience” (source: Meta)

How to request Parental Supervision - student

Screenshot of Settings and Privacy
  • The student will tap “Supervision” from the settings menu in their account
  • Tap “Next”
  • Instagram will alert the student to all of the information parents can and cannot view  while they are “supervising”
  • Tap “Set up supervision"
  • Send a Message to your parent
  • An invitation to supervise your account will be sent to your parent and stay active for 48 hours.  The parent will have to accept the request 

How to accept a supervision request - parent

  • Parent will receive a text or email from their student requesting supervision on Instagram
  • Open the message and tap “Next”
  • Read through all that you can and cannot view regarding your student’s account
  • Tap “Accept invite”

How to set limits in Parental Supervision - parent

Setting time limits
  • From your Instagram account, open the settings menu
  • Tap “Supervision”
  • The app will take you to the Family Center website and you will see a list of all of the teens that your are supervising
  • Tap the student’s name 
  • This will show you how much time your student is spending on the app
  • Tap “Set limit”
  • Tap the amount of desired time you want your student to spend daily on Instagram
  • Tap “Save”
  • When students reach the daily time limit, they will receive a “Time to close Instagram” screen
  • Students will no longer be able to access their account on their device for the rest of the day, but they will be able to access the settings menu

How to view your student’s followers/following list - parent

Example from Parental Supervision
  • After tapping your student’s Instagram username/profile photo from the Supervision menu, scroll down to see a list of accounts that your student is either following or who is following your student
  • The list is arranged by most recent
  • Tap on the account to view their profile
  • Review often as users can gain new friends and new followers over time

How to adjust your settings in Instagram

How to get to your Profile, Settings, & Privacy

  • Tap the small profile picture in the bottom right from anywhere in the app
  • Tap the “hamburger” (menu icon) in the top right corner
  • Tap "Settings"
  • Tap "Privacy"

Is a Private Account for you?

  • Users under 16 years old creating a new Instagram account will default to private accounts, but will have the option to switch to Public Account
  • On a Private Account, people must send you a follow request and you must approve it before they can see your posts
  • Public accounts (and any content that is posted) can be seen by anyone on or off Instagram, even if they do not have an IG account

How to hide offensive words, phrases, & emojis (Hidden Words Settings)

  • From the Privacy menu tap on Hidden Words
  • Slide Hide Comments on “Comments that may be offensive will be hidden in a separate section” 
  • Want even more control? Scroll down in Hidden Words to tap “Manage custom words and phrases”
  • Add specific words, phrases or emojis to hide
  • Slide “Hide posts” to on‍
How to hide offensive words, phrases, & emojis

How to limit unwanted interactions in Instagram

Limits setting

If you feel like you’re being harassed, you can temporarily limit unwanted comments and direct messages. They will be hidden unless you approve them.

  • In the Settings and Privacy menu click “Limited interactions”
  • Tap “Continue”
  • Select Who You want to Limit, How Long to Limit and then tap “Turn On”

How to adjust who can comment

  • When your account is in Private mode, comment controls only show the “Block Comments From” setting 
  • When your account is not Private
  • ~Tap on “Comments”
  • ~Tap “Allow Comments From” 
  • ~Select who you want to allow comments from. Our suggestion for students is “People You Follow” so you are in more control
How to find Comment controls

How to hide likes (the heart icon)

  • Instagram tested hiding likes for several years to “depressurize people’s experience” and came to the conclusion that users want the option to hide like
  • Default setting is to always show likes

Option 1: Hide like/view counts on all posts:

  • Tap Posts in the Privacy menu
  • Slide “Hide Like and toggle to the right to turn on

Option 2: Hide counts on your individual posts

  • From one of your posts: tap the three dots in the top right corner
  • Select “Hide Likes”
  • Consider selecting “Turn Off Commenting” as well to help reduce possible negative mental health effects and/or drama

How to hide/blocking rude comments

  • Tap on the comment you want to hide/block
  • Slide the comment to the left
  • Tap on the speech bubble
  • Tap your selection

How to reduce stress by reporting offensive content and letting your parents know

  • For those who have set up Parental Supervision, students will have the opportunity to have Instagram alert their parents that they have reported something or someone
  • The parent will receive a notification through their own Instagram account
  • They will not be given any details about the report, only that their teen has made a report
  • Tap on the 3 dots at the top of the post
  • Tap “Report”
  • Tap the reason for reporting the post (If you are reporting bullying, it will give you the option to choose who is being bullied - "Me", "Someone I know", "Someone else")
  • Tap “Submit Report”
  • Instagram will tell the student that the report is “Awaiting review” and then give the option to “Let your parent know”

How to turn off iPhone notifications

  • Go to settings and tap “Notifications”
  • Tap "Instagram"
  • Turn off “Allow Notifications” or tap “Instagram Notification Settings” 
  • Adjust specific settings within IG

How to turn off Android notifications

  • Click on “Settings” and search for Notifications
  • Click on “Notifications”
  • Select “All apps” 
  • Tap on “Instagram”
  • Toggle off “Show Notifications”

How to manage your activities on Instagram

  • Instagram has installed features to help manage your activities on the app
  • Tap the menu button on your profile
  • Tap “Your Activity”
  • By tapping on the “Time Spent” tab, users can view how much time they are spending on the app and configure settings to help them combat mindless scrolling

Managing your "Time Spent"

To set the “Take a Break” feature, tap “Set reminder to take breaks” 

  • Tap desired time limit
  • Tap “Done”
  • When you have reached the time limit, you will receive a gentle warning and a suggestion to “Take a Break” will appear
  • To set the “Daily Time Limit” feature, tap “Set daily time limit” 
  • Tap desired time limit
  • Tap “Done”
  • When you have reached the Daily Limit, a suggestion to close the app will appear

How to archive or delete multiple photos/videos at once

  • Instagram allows you to mass delete or archive Posts, Reels, and videos
  • Visit the “Your Activity” area in the menu
  • Tap “Posts”
  • Tap “Select” 
  • Check all of the posts that you want to delete
  • Tap “Delete” (or archive)
  • Tap “Delete” to confirm

How to manage your "Interactions"

  • Instagram also allows you to mass delete or unlike Comments, Likes, and Story Replies that you have posted
  • Tap “Comments”
  • Tap “Select” 
  • Check all of the comments that you want to delete
  • Tap “Delete”
  • Tap “Delete” to confirm

How to control the sensitive content you see

  • Instagram allows you to control the level of sensitive content in not only your Explore, but also in Search, Reels, Accounts You Might Follow, Hashtag Pages and In-Feed Recommendations
  • From "Settings", tap "Account"
  • Tap "Sensitive content control"
  • Select from "More", "Standard" (default), or "Less"
  • Accounts for those under 18 will only display the "Standard" and "Less" options

How to Shine Online with Instagram

Your Instagram profile page can show up for a college or job interview before you do. Every employer looks at 100-500 resumes when they are hiring for a position. Then they Google their favorites to learn more about them. Social media accounts show up in Google results. Your student can be silently blocked from future opportunities if their social media presence does not do a good job of selling them as the right candidate. 

Instagram can be used as an extension of your student’s 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 grades 6th-8th, students may be planning for their future and creating a private portfolio of accomplishments to one day share online 
  • By Grades 9-12, they could make their portfolio public to create their positive digital footprint

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 a student’s 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 their hobbies are, who their friends are, and what they do in their free time
  • If an admission officer or hiring manager can’t quickly find your student’s account (e.g. their account is private or they use a fake name), then they may  find someone else with a similar name who may not use social media with a positive purpose
  • When you embrace Instagram as an extension of your student’s resume remind students to only post content that builds their personal brand (Check out the SmartSocial Student Branding Academy for help with these steps to create your personal brand online)
  • Consider doing an Instagram Clean-up - mass delete or archive posts, videos, or comments that no longer reflect the image that you want to portray on your account

Positive Instagram Post Ideas for Students

  • Show that you speak multiple languages
  • Share your sports achievements and photos
  • Feature passion projects or hobbies
  • Group photos from clubs on campus - Cultural Clubs, ASB, Debate Team, Robotics, Performing Arts, National Honors Society, etc.
  • Volunteering highlights and lessons learned from the experience
  • Family events and milestones

Instagram in the news

“We have to acknowledge the broader point that Instagram and other social media apps are designed to keep people using them for as many hours as possible, because that’s how they make the most money.” Time

Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show
‘Thirty-two percent of teenage girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,' the researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. ‘Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.’ - WSJ

Neuroscience Explains Why Instagram Is So Bad For Teen Girls
...It appears that Instagram leads to more comparisons between ourselves and others. This, in turn, contributes to more anxiety and depression due to feelings of inadequacy. Research suggests...Increased exposure is linked to decreased happiness with one’s own life - Forbes

Instagram's hidden drug market for teens is out of control
TPP’s research says it only takes a couple of clicks to find an account peddling drugs on Instagram. In contrast, the process of logging out takes five clicks. - digitaltrends


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.

Additional Instagram resources

Listen to the Mom Talk podcast where Beth and Andrea discuss Instagram

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