Parents’ Guide to Instagram

3 years ago

Instagram just introduced Instagram Direct, which is a way to send pictures or videos privately on Instagram.  This is a welcome feature, but with any new feature, there may be questions: Can I share with someone who I am not following? Can someone I am not following share with me? I thought this would be a good time for a quick Instagram primer for parents who don’t use Instagram but want to understand how it works.  I’ll highlight the areas that parents will want to pay attention to.

Instagram basics

When you open the Instagram app, there are five tabs at the bottom of the screen – Home, Explore, Share, News/Following, and Profile.  Let’s take a look at each of these.

Instagram tabs

The Home tab is the first thing you see when you open the app.  You’ll see photos and videos (let’s call those “posts”) that have been shared by those that you follow. Underneath the post you’ll see any likes and comments that the post has received.  You can add a like or comment as well.

Of note here – you can click to see which Instagrammers have liked a post.  You can then click on their usernames to see more about that person.  If that user has made their posts Private, you will only see their name, username, profile picture and bio.  If their posts are public, you will also see their photos and videos.

The Explore tab displays some of the recent popular posts on Instagram.  These are chosen by the Instagram team using a special formula “to surface the most recently interesting photos based on a variety of variables.” (Don’t worry; I don’t know what that means either!)

The Explore tab also has a Search feature.  Search for users and hashtags (see more about hashtags towards the end of the article).

The Share tab is the button used to take a photo or video to share. You can also share an existing photo or video.   The process goes something like this (* means optional):

  1. Scale and crop the photo
  2. Add a filter for interesting effects*
  3. Write a caption for the photo*
  4. Tag people* – tap on the picture, and start typing someone’s name or username, and they will be tagged in the post.  They will receive a notification that they’ve been tagged, if they are following you.
  5. Add to photo map* – you can identify the location where the photo was taken.  Not recommended for publicly shared photos if you want to maintain some privacy! Parents, you can lock down this feature on Apple devices by restricting Instagram from accessing your location.
  6. Share outside Instagram* – choose connected services where the photo will be shared such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, foursquare, or by e-mail.
  7. Share – the final step is to Share the photo or video, which adds it to your list of posts on your profile page, and shares it with your followers on their Home tab.  If you choose to make it a direct message/post, it will only be shared with the recipients you choose.

The Following/News tab is where you will see a list of recent activity related to you.  On the “News” section, you’ll see when someone has liked your post, when someone you know (through another social network perhaps) joins Instagram, when someone has started following you, or when someone has tagged you.

On the “Following” section you’ll see some of the activity of people you follow.  For example, I follow my daughter on Instagram.  When she likes or comments on a post, I can see that if the post was a public one.  Yet another reason to suggest your child keep a private profile; less of a chance for non-followers – friends of friends of friends or even complete strangers – to see what he or she is posting.

The last tab in the Instagram app is the Profile tab.  This is where you’ll see all the photos/videos you’ve shared, a list of your followers, a list of who you follow, and options for editing your profile and settings in the app.


Instagram Profile Settings for Privacy

Here are the suggested settings if you want to keep things as private as possible on Instagram. Parents these are the suggested settings for your kids if you want them to remain as incognito as possible.

From the profile tab, click Edit Your Profile.  This is where you can set your name, username, website and bio.  Keep in mind that even if your photos/videos are private, your name, username, profile picture, website and bio are public and visible to all who click your name.  So it’s best to only include a first name, and keep personal details out of the bio. Some kids use the website link for other social media accounts like Facebook or – again, this isnot private information!  Don’t include your age, school name and grade in your bio, kids!

Instagram profile with "Edit Your Profile" circled  Instagram - Edit your Profile screen  Edit your Profile in Instagram

The profile also includes an important setting – this is where you can set your Posts to Private.  With private posts, only those you approve as followers will see your posts.

From your profile you can access the settings using the little gear icon in the upper right.  A few items of interest here:

  1. Find People to Follow – Instagram will suggest users to you, based on other accounts you may be following.  There are also options to connect to social media like Facebook to see if your Facebook friends are on Instagram, and to connect to your contact list to see if any contacts are on Instagram.  Parents – if you don’t want Instagram to connect with the Contacts list on your child’s Apple device, you can restrict that.  Go to Settings >General >Restrictions ->Contacts. Disable Instagram in the list, and then set to Don’t Allow Changes.
  2. Instagram Ads – Instagram needs to make money somehow, and you may encounter ads within the app.  I have yet to see an ad on Instagram.  But I’m far from a “power user” like the kids who use it as their main mode of communication.  Be aware that not all ads may be appropriate for younger children.
  3. Share Settings – this is where you can provide details for other social media accounts, for sharing Instagram posts elsewhere.  Of note here – for Facebook, you can automatically share each time you post.  The suggested setting is OFF – better to decide post by post whether to share to Facebook.
  4. Push Notifications – you can decide what kind of activity you would like to receive outside of the app.  You can set these here or in the device’s notification settings.  Be aware of constant notifications throughout the day, these could prove to be distracting when kids should be doing homework and instead receive alerts for each new “like” and “comment”.

Instagram Settings page     Settings in Instagram



Hashtags on Instagram – what the #?

You’ll often see photos and videos that use hashtags.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, a hashstag is a word preceded by a pound sign, such as #food. Click the hashtag to discover other photos or videos that use the same hashtag.  Basically, hashtags are a way to describe or tag a post and make it more visible.  For posts that are public and contain a hashtag, those searching for a certain term or hashtag may come across your picture.

Some hashtags you might see on Instagram:

#tagforlikes – Asking for visitors of your photo to like it.

#tagforfollowers – Asking for visitors of your photo to become a follower.

#tbt (Throwback Thursday) – Often seen on Thursdays (duh) to describe an old picture of oneself or others.

#tbh (To Be Honest) – or “Like for a #tbh” – Used to encourage visitors of your post to like the post.  After someone likes the post, you go to one of their posts and leave a comment telling what you honestly think about them.  (I’I’ve seen mostly compliments, but this has the potential to get ugly in the worst circumstances).  This one is really popular – a search for this hashtag found almost 2 million of ‘em.

Examples of posts tagged with #tbh

Sometimes the kids go crazy with the hashtags! (I wonder do they really know what it all means?)

That's a lot of hashtags!

#love #TagsForLikes #TFLers #tweegram#photooftheday #20likes #amazing #followme
#follow4follow#like4like #look #instalike #igers #picoftheday #food #instadaily#instafollow#like #girl #iphoneonly #instagood #bestoftheday#instacool #instago #all_shots #follow
#webstagram #colorful #style#swag

More popular hashtags:


Instagram Direct

Instagram DirectThe new Instagram feature is Instagram Direct.  When sharing a photo, you can now choose to share with just a friend or two – up to 15 – instead of all your followers.  The friends you send to can then comment and like the photo.  Only those who received the direct message can see those comments (even if they don’t follow each other.).

Note, when you choose to share directly, you can choose to send to someone who is not following you.  They’ll get notified and can choose whether they want to view what you’ve sent.  Keep this in mind, because armed with a username (which is discoverable on Instagram with some clicking around), your child could receive direct messages from someone they don’t know.  So, a little education here to remind them not to allow messages from strangers.  If they forget– or, more likely are curious to see what’s being sent and allow the message – they can later block someone if it ends up they do not know the person and don’t want to be connected with them on Instagram.


More than a photo and video sharing app, for teens Instagram may be their social network of choice.  A great way to learn more is to download the app yourself! I always recommend following your kids on social media and have them follow you – they may not always like it, but it can really give you a sense of how they are handling themselves in our 24/7 connected society.

Learn more about Instragram Direct.

Tips for Parents

Instagram Help and Support


~ Jean 

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