Instagram App Guide (2021): What Parents, Educators, & Students Need to Know

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Instagram App Guide (2021): What Parents, Educators, & Students Need to Know

October 7, 2021

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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.r.

What should parents & educators know?

  • Instagram is incredibly popular with students and many students use fake credentials to gain access even if they are under 13 years old
  • 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 “Finstagram” - we created a guide about these secret accounts to help keep their students safe. Read more about Finstagram here 
  • 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 here 
  • 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

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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 parents & educators need to know

  • Instagram is incredibly popular with students and many students use fake credentials to gain access even if they are under 13 years old
  • 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 “Finstagram” - we created a guide about these secret accounts to help keep their students safe. Read more about Finstagram here 
  • 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 here 
  • 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

Overview video for parents & educators:

Parent & educator training video

What we're covering in this video:

  • Why Instagram is so popular
  • What can go wrong on Instagram
  • How to view your student's activity on Instagram
  • What is and how to find a Finstagram

What is the Instagram app?

instagram logo
  • 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?

Who can use Instagram?

  • Instagram policy states users must be at least 13 years old
  • Instagram Kids for tweens aged 10-12 is in development by Facebook to provide users under 13 access with parental permission, no ads, and “age-appropriate content and features” (Instagram Blog)
  • Instagram Kids development was paused in September 2021
  • 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.

NBC Bay Area headline: Archbishop Mitty High School Senior disenrolled Over Instagram Fitness Photos
A high school student was reportedly banned from attending graduation after refusing to remove pictures from their Instagram...

NBC Bay Area

BBC News headline: Instagram 'helped kill my daughter'
A father told BBC News he blames Instagram for his daughter’s suicide...

BBC

The Wall Street Journal headline: Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show. Its own in-depth research shows a significant teen mental-health issue that Facebook plays down in public
‘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.’

WSJ

NPR headline: Instagram Now Lets You Control Your Bully's Commentes
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

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 longer than 60 seconds (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
  • Learn more in the SmartSocial VIP program

What is Instagram doing to combat known issues impacting teens? 

  • Social comparison: In 2019 Instagram started hiding “likes” of certain users. While each user can still see the likes their own posts get, scrolling through your Instagram feed may not show the likes on posts from the users you are following
  • Eating disorders and negative body image: Instagram says they “blur potentially triggering images and point people to helpful resources” when users search for these topics (Read more on the Instagram blog)
  • Suicide and self-harm: Photos, graphics, and hashtags about self-harm are not allowed and are “blurred” so images are not immediately visible (Read more on the Instagram blog about self-harm)
Instagram Sensitive Content
Example of blurred photo with sensitive content (Instagram blog)
  • Bullying: The “Restrict” feature allows users to control the comments they see without the poster being notified. When a user “Restricts” someone, the comments from that person will be visible only to the person who posted the comments (Read more from the Instagram blog)
We’ve heard from young people in our community that they’re reluctant to block, unfollow, or report their bully because it could escalate the situation, especially if they interact with their bully in real life. Some of these actions also make it difficult for a target to keep track of their bully’s behavior.

Instagram blog

What can parents & educators 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
  • 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
  • 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 
  • Talk with your students about social media  challenges or stunts they see 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. 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 

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 

Sample images of Report Comment and Restrict user screen shots (Instagram blog)
Sample images of Report Comment and Restrict user screen shots (Instagram blog)

What students & parents need to know

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)

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

Student training video

What we're covering in this video:

Examples from news clips around the world with real-life examples of how Instagram can be dangerous

What we're covering in this video:

  • How to brand your Instagram to have fun and Shine Online
  • How to set up your bio and photo
  • Where to link to in your bio
  • Tell a story with your highlights/stories
  • Tell a story with your images/videos
  • Tell a story with your guides
  • How to hide likes, block people, report bad content, and reduce spam
  • How to archive images/videos
  • When to publicize your account to Shine Online for discovery by Google

Parent & student training video

What we're covering in this video:

  • How to brand your Instagram to have fun and Shine Online
  • How to set up your bio and photo
  • Where to link to in your bio
  • Tell a story with your highlights/stories
  • Tell a story with your images/videos
  • Tell a story with your guides
  • How to hide likes, block people, report bad content, and reduce spam
  • How to archive images/videos
  • When to publicize your account to Shine Online for discovery by Google

More Instagram resources

Instagram App: Everything parents need to know

How the "React" feature reduces bullying

Conclusion

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.

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