Your child has probably been begging you for Instagram since forever. You know how Instagram works because you have your own account and have heard that the best way to keep kids safe is to make sure their account is private and to be their friend or know their login details.
Unfortunately Instagram is just not safe for kids and teens, and this approach doesn’t take into account the three major dangers that they are faced with when using the platform.
- R and X-rated content
- Personal information and location shared with ‘friends’
- Cyber-bulling and mental health
These dangers are evident on many social media platforms, but Instagram is one of the most popular amongst young people and there is a misconception amongst parents that it is one of the safer platforms. Let’s have a look at the three dangers more closely….
Instagram is a huge image search engine that hosts R and X-Rated porn and violence.
You may have heard that Instagram filters out inappropriate content – but this ignores the fact that Instagram works by providing the most recent content first. Like many Australian parents, you probably didn’t realise that Instagram has porn.
Just try this test. If you have Instagram, search for the hashtag #sex and view some of the content. You are automatically given the most recently uploaded images AND videos. They’re so recent that explicit content including porn and violent content hasn’t yet been reported and blocked.
This is explicit pornography that is demeaning, highly sexualised and inappropriate for teenage girls and boys under 18. It can’t be unseen.
And if you think your kids aren’t curious and looking at more innocent hashtags… #thinkagain It’s just too easy to access. Even innocent hashtags such as #goldcoast can bring up porn – it’s hard to keep it clean on Insta.
This feature of Instagram alone tells me that this app isn’t suitable for my 13 year daughter. But there are also other dangers…and they apply to most social networking platforms.
Kids just aren’t savvy enough to protect their personal information or think critically about their interactions with ‘friends’ online
American data tells us that 65% of teen profiles online include information that can lead to their home, school or both. Through shared information (such as the child goes to netball training on Fridays, and the name of the team they play for) predators can determine a child’s schedule and location.
Predators online find vulnerable children and target them for grooming online. One in 5 US teenagers report receiving unwanted sexual attention online, and only 25% told a parent.
There are a number of horror stories where Australian kids have been targetted, and most recently a Sydney school girl was found in a basement in the USA after she was lured there by a man she met on Snapchat. She had caught a flight to LA before her parents even realised she was missing.
Australian teenager Carly Ryan was killed by a man who pretended to be a teenage boy. Carly’s Law now exists to protect children online making it illegal for an adult to lie about their age to a child online.
In fact a man was arrested under this law TODAY.
24/7 bullying and anxiety
When we were bullied at school, home was our sanctuary. Now, bullying is 24/7 and in our child’s pocket.
In a recent survey in the UK, 10 000 kids between the ages of 12 and 20 were surveyed and 42% said they had been bullied on Instagram.
Kids can be bullied on Instagram when embarrassing photos are posted, cruel comments are made, they are tagged on a photo meant to embarrass or shame, bullies create an account in your child’s name and defame them, they post screenshots of private conversations, and, by exclusion.
Recently, a Gold Coast school had to shut down a ‘roast page’; a page set up to shame fellow students with crude images and comments. These pages are anonymous and can be devastating for the kids involved. Imagine an anonymous workmate posting a nasty image or comment about you online, and going to work not knowing who created it and who saw it.
I recently read an article that suggested parents allow their children to deal with online bullying alone ”to build resilience’. As an IT teacher and cyber-safety advocate, I was appalled. Our kids need guidance, involved parents, parents strong enough to say ‘no’ and parents that are nosy about their kids online habits.
In January, a 14 year old boy killed himself after being relentlessly bullied on Snapchat. His parents didn’t know the extent of the bullying (and will never know due to the encrypted nature of the messages) before it was too late.
In addition to ’dangers’, Instagram itself has been found to be the worst social media platform for young people’s mental health. Unrealistic body image and lifestyle expectations (Kardashians anyone?) are making kids unsatisfied with their own lives.
What’s the solution?
Don’t have it. There I said it.
Restrictions and filters set up on a smartphone don’t apply to apps like Instagram. The R and X-rated content will always be there. Children can use the app to hide conversations from parents who check text messages (there is an app for that!) and expose themselves to cyber crime, bullying and poor mental health.
The tween and teen years are already vulnerable times and protecting our children is more important than allowing them free reign on platforms where we can be bypassed as gatekeepers of our children’s wellbeing.
The fact is that our kids and teens are vunerable (because they’re kids and teens) and we need to stop pretending that social media platforms, like Instagram, are safe places for them (because they’re not).
Percentage of kids and teens that say they've been bullied on Instagram