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Instagram and your teen: What you should know

What started as a simple way to share pictures from your iPhone has turned into a social network. Instagram has taken the web by storm, and not just amongst the soccer moms.

Tweens and teens are posting pics to Instagram like crazy, following their friends and making comments. Sure, it’s fun — but the newest social craze may invade your teen’s privacy more than Facebook.

If you haven’t heard about Instagram, either you don’t own a smartphone or you don’t have a teenager. The photo-sharing social site is the hottest thing online — even bigger than Facebook for many tweens and teens. With co-founders from Stanford who boast heavy social-media experience, this photo-sharing site is a force to be reckoned with in the social media world.

Why do teens love it?

Teenagers are all about the here and now — your social status is partially dictated by what you are doing now and who you are with. With the Instagram app, the moment you take a picture of what you are doing — chilling at the football game or hanging out at the mall — your followers are right there with you. You can tag friends in your pictures instantly and anyone who follows you can comment, making any experience that much more social. For many teens, Instagram is where it’s at — and Facebook status updates are so 2011.

With a smartphone in her pocket, what’s keeping your daughter from posting to Instagram every ten minutes? Nothing — and that’s why she loves it. Instant gratification and comments on photos from friends and admirers are all it takes to keep her interested.

Read more about online safety for tweens and teens >>

Privacy: Is it an issue?

Remember when your daughter first signed up for a Facebook account? Whether she was 11 years old or 15, you probably had concerns about the potential privacy violations with her new account. Now that she’s older and Facebook seems tame, grabbing an account on Instagram is probably not even on your radar. What are their privacy policies, anyway?

According to the Instagram company website, “Instagram does not knowingly collect or solicit any information from anyone under the age of 13 or knowingly allow such persons to register for the Service. The Service and its content are not directed at children under the age of 13. In the event that we learn that we have collected personal information from a child under age 13 without parental consent, we will delete that information as quickly as possible.” Much like the policies of Facebook, Instagram does not cater to those under the age of 13 — which does not keep them from opening accounts if they lie about their age.

Followers or friends?

On Instagram, people can follow you fairly easily. Unless you set your privacy settings super-private, any random Instagram user can follow your daughter simply because he likes her cute photos at the beach. Users can block followers if they seem creepy, but with a potential pool of thousands of followers will your child really do this? Simply being an adult user on Instagram and searching “beach” would bring up a wide range of pictures of tweens and teens that could then be followed on Instagram if their settings were not private.

By simply changing a few settings, your child will have to “approve” new followers. If you wanted to keep your Instagram account very private, you could — but few teens would do that. If you feel concerned about your teen’s privacy, you need to check out his Instagram account settings.

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Bottom line

Instagram is a huge hit — and not going away anytime soon. Back in the spring, Facebook purchased Instagram for a huge sum of money — some say because they realized that Instagram was the one site that could render Facebook a thing of the past. Talk to your tweens and teens again about internet privacy and that what they post is out there forever. Privacy issues such as posting where they are going and when are just as serious as Facebook — maybe more so, since images are always involved. Consider demanding privacy controls for younger tweens on Instagram, just to make sure they are using it safely.

Instagram is fun for the younger crowd and quite addictive for the older crowd. With a bit of knowledge and caution, it can stay fun and not become an invitation for creepy followers.

More internet safety

Digital parenting: How to keep kids safe online
Kids on the internet: Safety tips for parents
Are parental controls worth it?

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