Instagram Guide (2022): What Parents, Educators, & Students Need to Know

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March 30, 2022

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What parents, teachers, & students will learn in this course

  • Why do students like Instagram so much?
  • How to beat the Instagram algorithm and only see your "Favorites" and "Following"
  • How to look for and find fake "Finstagram" accounts on your student's phone
  • How to view and talk with your student about their activity on Instagram
  • Recommendations and step-by-step guide to help control screen time
  • Examples of bullying, predators, and drug problems on Instagram

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


Sharon M.

Parent VIP Member

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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

This app is listed in the Green Zone.
This app is not safe for students to use unsupervised, but a Green Zone app can serve a positive purpose to help a student to navigate social media and someday build an online brand. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Green Zone.

This app is listed in the Gray Zone.
Gray Zone apps often contain lots of private & disappearing messages, and strangers can use this to chat with students. Parents should participate in these apps with students to keep them safe. This zone can be a great place for family time since many of these apps can be entertaining, and let your students express themselves. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Gray Zone.

This app is listed in the Red Zone.
Red Zone apps often have lots of anonymous features, adult content, and easy contact with strangers. Supervision is strongly suggested on each of these apps or move your kids to a safer zone. All apps require parental supervision, these apps more than others. Read more below to find out why this app is in the Red Zone or view our list of 100+ Apps to find a safer app with your student.
Join our weekly newsletter to learn about the 100+ app reviews at

This trend is categorized as a Dangerous Social Media Challenge.
Viral challenges encourage students to do dangerous things to garner likes, views, attention, and subscribers. These challenges can be found across several social networks and may encourage students to perform dangerous activities. keeps parents updated on these social media challenges before an incident may occur in your community.

Table of Contents

Instagram is one of the most popular apps and websites for teens. The Pew Research Center says 72% of teens have said they use Instagram. And although teens who use the app report that they feel more confident, popular, and better about themselves, research shows that social media can have negative effects on teens' mental health. (source: Statista)

This guide helps parents and educators easily understand how Instagram works, how students can stay safe while using it, and how to shine online while creating, sharing, and viewing content.

Parent & educator training video

What we're covering in this video:

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. The influence of Instagram
  2. Predators and drugs on Instagram - what to look for
  3. Why do students like Instagram so much?
  4. How to view your student's activities
  5. How to set time limits WITH your students
  6. What is a "Finstagram," how students hide content and how to find your student's fake accounts

Click here to access the SmartSocial Cell Phone and Social Media Agreement template

Instagram Parental Supervision video

What we're covering in this video:

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. How families can work together
  2. What students & parents need to know about Family Center and Parental Supervision
  3. How to turn on Parental Supervision from the student & parent accounts
  4. How to set limits in Parental Supervision

Parent and student training videos

(These videos can be shown in the classroom)

What we're covering in this video:

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. How to brand your Instagram for your future
  2. How to set up your profile
  3. Is a Private Account right for you and when to publicize your account for discover by Google
  4. How to hide offensive words, phrases & emojis
  5. How to hide likes, block people or bad content, and reduce spam
  6. How to report offensive content or harassment
  7. How to reduce notifications (and distractions) on your phone

What we're covering in this video:

(Click on the three lines or a blue dot in video progress bar to skip to a chapter)

  1. How to manage your activities on Instagram
  2. How to set "Take a Break" feature
  3. How to outsmart the Instagram algorithm and reduce your scrolling time
  4. What are Instagram Reels?
  5. Our proven social media formula to Shine Online
  6. Next steps for students

What is Instagram?

  • Instagram is an app (and a website) built around sharing photos and videos 
  • Meta 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 byMeta

Features of Instagram

Instagram app icon
  • Feed: shows both posts from everyone a user follows and advertisements based on data collected by Meta
  • Reels: users can record and edit 15-60 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
  • 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: T (Teen) 

Official website: (Owned by Meta)

Privacy Policy

Terms of Use

Who can use Instagram?

  • Instagram policy states users must be at least 13 years old
  • Instagram Kids for tweens aged 10-12 was in development by Meta to provide users under 13 access with parental permission, no ads, and “age-appropriate content and features”, but was paused in September 2021 Source: Instagram Blog)
  • Instagram rules say users can make up to 5 accounts per login

What should parents know?

  • Instagram is incredibly popular with students and many students use fake credentials to gain access even if they are under 13 years old
Screenshot of privacy screen
  • Users under the age of 16 are put into a private account by default, but can easily change to a public account
  • Instagram has developed restrictions that prevent adults who do not follow a teen account to DM (Direct Message) a teen account
  • Instagram is trying to protect young users from being discovered or contacted by unwanted adults by using technology to pinpoint adults that have shown “potentially suspicious behavior” and young adults’ accounts will not be shown in Explore, Reels, or Accounts Suggested for You to these adults
  • ~If these adults try to search for a young adult username, it will not appear and they will not be able to view comments from young people on other peoples posts or be able to comment on young people’s posts
  • 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 for users under 18
  • Instagram can have a severe 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. On the other hand, when Instagram is used in a negative way, it can have serious real-world repercussions
  • It’s not uncommon for students to have a second (or secret) Instagram account called a “:”
  • 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 
  • Like other social media apps, predators can use Instagram to target and groom their victims

Why do students want to be on Instagram?

At this point, I think my parents spend more time on Instagram than I do. Although they've been able to stay on a positive side of the app, I wish they were aware of all the dangerous people on the app that target people in my age group.

Colin, SmartSocial Advisor

Instagram makes me feel happy because I can see what my friends and my favorite influencers posts, and watch really cool edits of my favorite tv shows!

Sarah, SmartSocial Student Advisor

My friends use Instagram for various reasons, including sharing art, photos, and keeping up with what other people are doing

Kaitlyn, SmartSocial Student Advisor

My friends use it sometimes to spread political awareness about issues that are on their minds

Colin, SmartSocial Student Advisor

  • Students want to connect with their friends both near and far 
  • Interact with celebrities to briefly acquire “celebrity-like experiences” 
  • Using hashtags and filters allows students to explore their digital creativity beyond basic photos
  • Instagram Direct Messages are a quick way to connect with friends and followers
  • Students enjoy Instagram to escape from schoolwork or chores and find it easy to just relax and enjoy looking at diverse photos
  • A medium to spread political awareness
  • Also, parents weren’t on Instagram, until recently

Does your student have a Finstagram?

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
  • 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
  • This is called a Finsta, Fake Instagram, Finstagram, or Spam account
  • To check for a 2nd 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

What can parents do?

  • 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 what their favorite and least favorite parts of the app are
  • We recommend families work together to create a Screen Time and Social Media Agreement so everyone knows the time limits
  • Use the Time on Instagram report to help students realize that checking-in for a minute or two throughout the day adds up
  • Work WITH your students so everyone feels the time limits are realistic
  • Talk with your student about setting up Parental Supervision - Instagram's parental controls feature
  • 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 to help 
  • Talk with your student about the pros and cons of their account being public or private
  • ~Remind your student 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
  • 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
  • Dialogue with your students about the  quality of their relationships vs. quantity of likes on social media. 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

What is Family Center?

Screenshot of Family Center website
  • Family Center is a central website designed by Meta for parents to monitor and set limits 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 of Supervision page
  • Instagram is in the process of releasing it’s first ever 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)
  • Currently, Parental Supervision has to be initiated by the student and accepted by the parent but IG will make it possible for parents to initiate supervision by June

How to request Parental Supervision - student

Screenshot of Settings menu
  • 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 parents 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 read the daily time limit, they will receive a “Time to close Instagram” screen
  • Students will not 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 name from the Supervision menu, scroll down to see a list of accounts that your student either following or who is following your student
  • The list is arranged by most recent
  • Tap on the account to view their profile

How to adjust your settings in Instagram

Setting up your Instagram Profile

Edit profile screen
  • Click the profile icon in the bottom to access:
  • ~Edit Profile: Adjust your profile settings
  • ~Profile Photo: Use a clear smiling photo of yourself (the same one across all of your accounts)
  • ~Name: Use the name you will use on your college admissions (or what you go by most often)
  • ~Username: Use something very similar to the name people will Google when they learn about you
  • ~Website: List your personal portfolio here (or a website you are proud of a college/employer seeing)
  • ~Bio: Write 1-2 lines about yourself and what grade you are in so you stand out from all of the other people with your same name

Instagram content types

Create screen
  • To add content to Instagram, tap the plus icon in the upper right corner of your profile page
  • ~Post: Showcased on your page (and others can see in their feed) until you archive/delete
  • ~Reel: 15 or 60 second videos that loop (competitor to TikTok) and lives on your profile until you archive/delete
  • ~Story: Temporary posts that live for 24 hours in the story section of the app. Usually vertical video/images with lots of text
  • ~Story Highlight: A way to save/group stories onto your profile so they don’t expire
  • ~Live: Users start a live broadcast of video and audio
  • ~Guide: Curated posts to tell a story about products, posts or places that you want to show people
  • ~Fundraiser: Raise money for local or national charities

How to get to your Profile, Settings, & Privacy

Settings menu
  • 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 into a Private Account, 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
  • If you share posts from an Instagram Private Account to other social media (like Facebook or Twitter) they may be visible to those social media followers
  • 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
  • Make your account public only when you have a positive purpose and are ready to Shine Online (High School)

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 list”
  • Add specific words, phrases or emojis to hide
  • Slide “Hide comments” and “Hide message requests” to on

How to find Hidden Words setting

How to limit unwanted interactions in Instagram

Limits settings

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

  • Tap “Limits”
  • Tap “Continue”
  • Select Who You want to Limit, How Long to Limit and then tap “Turn On”

How to adjust who can comment and blocking unwanted people

  • 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
Hiding on all posts
  • Instagram tested hiding likes for several years to “depressurize people’s experience” and came to the conclusion that users want the option to hide likes
  • 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 View Counts” to the right to turn on
  • Consider setting “Allow Tags From” to “People You Follow” for more control of who can create online connections to your name
  • Set “Manually Approve Tags” to on to choose who can tag you in their photos and videos

Option 2: Hide counts on your individual posts

Individual posts
  • From one of your posts: tap the three dots in the top right corner
  • Select “Hide Like Count”
  • 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 hide/block rude comments

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

Report offensive content
  • 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

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

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"

Managing 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 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

Delete post screen
  • 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 Instagram Search and Explore distracts us

Search and Explore screen
  • The Instagram algorithm feeds us with endless content on the search page (hoping to keep us in the app and addicted to scrolling)
  • After tapping on a post, a stream of “Similar posts” will appear 
  • Tapping in the search box will allow you to search for specific topics and also show you your past searches 
  • Pro Tip: Hold down the magnifying glass for one second and it will be less distracting (it hides the addictive videos & photos)

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

Even if you are nervous or anxious about the side-effects of social media, try to stay open to hearing why your students want to be on social media and help them find the positive use for their time 

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 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:

Screenshot of Google search results
  • 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

How to Shine Online with Instagram

  • Consider using the things you’re already doing to create a portfolio of positive images
  • Some volunteer ideas to consider:
  • ~Animal Shelter
  • ~Hospital
  • ~Senior Home
  • ~Red Cross
  • ~Habitat For Humanity
  • ~Walking a neighbor’s dog
  • Here’s my formula for posting online...

Student video

In this video: 

  • Student reflection activity #1
  • How Instagram makes us feel
  • Students as the business "pipeline" for Instagram
  • Instagram bullying dangers
  • Scams on Instagram targeting teens
  • Student reflection activity #2

Instagram in the news

Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show
‘Thirty-two percent of teen 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.’


The Surprising Downside of Instagram Compliments
Seeing all those ‘Look at me, I’m beautiful!’ images is not great for your mental health, but reading all of those ‘You’re so hot!’ comments below the pictures is an even worse blow to your body esteem.

Psychology Today

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


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.



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

Instagram App: Everything parents need to know

How the "React" feature reduces bullying

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