In order to sign up and create an Instagram profile, a potential user has to be at least 13 years old. Unfortunately, social media apps can be a hotbed of unsavory behavior, and nobody is entirely safe. Even well-adjusted adults with years of online experience can fall for scams on this platform. And scams are but one of many different dangers that you can run into while spending time browsing posts and leaving comments.
Instagram knows how dangerous the internet can be, so it has implemented a number of changes over the past few years to make it safe for everyone. The heads of the platform even shelved the project of creating a kid-friendly version of IG back in 2021. So, with all of those new safety measures in place, how safe is the app for underage users? And more importantly, what can concerned parents and guardians do to keep it as safe and risk-free as possible?
Let’s dig into the issue and find out.
Potential Dangers Underage Users Face
Lack of Privacy
As is the case with most apps, Instagram collects data on its users. In other words, every single post, comment, and DM that a child puts on the app will end up stored somewhere. If the wrong kind of person got hold of that information, there’s no telling what they could do to your children. Anything from cyberbullying and harassment to extortion and threats could happen. Some extreme cases also include stalking and physical attacks.
Development of Mental Issues
Teens have impressionable minds, as well as frequent issues with their body image. By browsing Instagram, they can run into accounts whose users set unattainable beauty standards. Spending hours on social media obsessing over this topic can lead your adolescent kids to develop a variety of mental issues. Some of the more severe ones include anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and social phobias.
Instagram takes bullying prevention seriously. According to Ditch the Label, at least one in five users on Instagram under the age of 20 faces some kind of bullying. It can range from nasty comments on the user’s posts, threatening DMs, or even public ridicule via images or videos. What makes it worse is the fact that Instagram is a social media network. In other words, if the bullies wanted to, they could target a specific individual as a group, flooding the user’s DMs and comments with harmful content.
As devastating as it may sound, cyberbullying is extremely common in the early 2020s. More often than not, it has dire consequences for the victim. But the devastating part is that the parents can hardly notice it immediately. Unlike real-life bullying, this form of harassment doesn’t leave any physical marks, such as scars or scrapes. Instead, your child suffers on a psychological level, which is often difficult to recognize.
Unfortunately, Instagram is home to many different types of scams. In fact, they are so prevalent on the platform that IG regularly posts and updates detailed guides on how to recognize and avoid such malicious behavior.
Said scams come in a wide variety of forms:
- Shady profiles pretending to be brand ambassadors interested in “up-and-coming teen influencers;”
- Cryptocurrency “startups;”
- Fake online stores selling goods targeted at younger audiences;
- People sending “free game cheat codes” or “free unlock keys for Steam titles;”
- Fake warnings from “Instagram staff” notifying the user that their profile has been hacked, demanding a relog.
Keep in mind that some of these scams are easier to spot than others. Certain scammers can be quite crafty and convincing with their DMs, so you have to be extra careful.
Sadly, there are many different horror stories about child predators using social media to target vulnerable underage users. Hundreds of thousands of malicious adults use Instagram to stalk and harass children and teens. Alternatively, they can simply follow their target of choice and archive any images or videos that the child posts.
Considering all of the issues listed above, it’s no wonder why parents want tighter control over what their kids do online. However, there are certain steps that adults can undertake to protect their loved ones from all of these dangers and allow them to browse the platform safely.
What Can the Adults Do?
Family Center and Third-Party Control Apps
Back in 2022, Instagram introduced the Family Center, a set of tools that helps adults monitor their teens’ IG profiles and curate them. With this feature, you can perform a wide range of actions, including:
- Checking who follows your children, as well as who they follow;
- Calculating how much time they spend on Instagram per day;
- Receiving notifications whenever your child reports malicious behavior;
- Sifting through the DMs for harassment or harmful replies.
And while IG constantly upgrades the Family Center, it can also be quite useful to install an additional third-party control app, like Bark, Eyezy, or mSpy. However, you first need to make sure these apps are legitimate and functional.
Talking to Your Young Ones
Obviously, before installing any of these apps, you should keep in mind that teens also need their privacy. With that in mind, you should openly discuss with them the dangers of using Instagram. That way, a compromise can be reached; they can continue to enjoy the app, but you get some level of parental control to avoid anything bad happening.
Turning Off Location Sharing
Some people will target your loved ones based on locations tagged in Instagram posts. With that in mind, you should remove the locations on your existing IG posts completely. The process is fairly simple:
- If you use Android, you first tap the three-dot menu above the uploaded photo or video; Next, you go to Edit, tap the name of the location, tap X in the top left-hand corner(right next to the Select a Location option), and finally tap the little checkmark icon, or ✓
- If you use an iPhone, after the three-dot menu, you go to Edit→Location name→Remove Location→Done.
From your child’s profile page, you have an option to set a daily time limit for using Instagram. Once the limit is reached, the app will warn the child that they should stop using the app. While this isn’t a foolproof method, it works well when you combine it with a parental app.
In order to set the time limit, you start by clicking on the child’s profile pic and tap the hamburger menu in the top right-hand corner. Then you go to Your activity→Your activity→Time spent→Set daily time limit→Done. These instructions are the same for both Android and iPhone but cannot be accessed on the web or desktop version of IG.
Finally, if you aim to make sure that no harmful content reaches your child or teen, you can always go into the privacy settings on their profile. To do that, you click on the hamburger menu and then tap Settings, followed by Privacy.
Once there, you will have access to multiple different features. Some of the most useful ones include:
- Toggling the Private Account option;
- Choosing the number of people and the amount of interaction time under Limits;
- Filtering specific comments by toggling Hide comments and Advanced comment filtering;
- Preventing unwanted DMs from strangers via Hide message requests;
- Adding a list of harmful words under Custom words and phrases→Manage list→Add;
- Using Block Comments From to prevent certain profiles from commenting on your child’s posts.