When you see a teen taking a selfie, chances are that picture will end up on social media. Often, that means Instagram, one of the most popular social image-sharing platforms in the world. What’s all the fuss about?
Teens love Instagram for a lot of reasons, but most importantly, that’s where their friends are. They can also keep tabs on their favorite celebrities, follow accounts that align with their interests, and, of course, maintain their own profile (or profiles) that present an image of themselves to their friends — and sometimes to the world.
As with all social media, the elements that make teens love Instagram can also be breeding grounds for trouble. Depending on whom you follow or what you search for, you can find lots of mature content. And the comments on posts can be downright vicious, especially if an account is public. Then there’s the pressure. Lots of kids feel that they have to maintain a perfect profile, so they’re constantly scanning posts for likes and deleting ones that don’t measure up. And they have to check their feeds all day (and sometimes at night) for updates from friends. Instagram also has a commercial aspect. Embedded ads, celebrity endorsements, and links to buy products are all over kids’ feeds.
Still, with some guidance around settings, limits on use, and ongoing conversations about content and comments, Instagram can be a place for kids to connect and be creative. Here we answer a few of your most common questions.
What kinds of content will my kid see on Instagram?
The kinds of content kids will see mostly depends on whom they follow: If they only follow friends and don’t search for anything, they may see only pictures of their friends having fun. But kids rarely limit their feeds to people they know, so it’s likely they’ll see mature content (including sexy stuff, swearing, and substance use), mean or sexual comments, and hashtags about suicide, anorexia, and other concerning topics. If they follow celebrities, they’ll probably also see marketing.
How can I monitor my kid’s activity on Instagram?
You can ask your kid to give you a tour of their Insta. Ask them to walk you through their account, explain memes and comments, discuss friends, and share whatever comes up. Or try one of these ideas:
- Create your own Instagram account and follow your kid. You’ll see what they post (unless they block you), but you won’t see their DMs (direct messages).
- Follow their friends. It’s not unusual for parents to be friends with their kids’ friends online (but you should hold back on comments). If you’re close with your kids’ friends, you can follow each other and keep tabs on your kid’s doings.
- Ask for your kid’s Instagram username and password. Then, you can log in as them and review their accounts.
- Do spot checks. Either random or scheduled, these check-ins give you time to sit down together and go through your kid’s feed.
- Install a third-party monitoring app. Parental controls such as Bark give you a lot of visibility into what kids are doing online. Learn more about parental controls.
Is there any way to limit or restrict my kid’s activity on Instagram, including connecting with strangers?
Instagram accounts are public by default, so the first thing to do is make your kid’s private. To do this, go to Settings from your profile page. Select Privacy and toggle on Private Account. With a private account, only people you approve can see what you post. You get a lot of options in the Privacy section — and you should spend some time here if you’re helping your kid set up their first account. You can’t lock Privacy settings, though, so be aware that kids can change them back. A few more key Instagram privacy settings:
You can limit comments to followers, block comments from specific people, hide “offensive” comments, and create specific filters for words and phrases.
Resharing to stories.
You can control whether or not other people can reshare your posts.
Photos and videos.
You can prevent people from automatically adding pictures of you to your profile without your approval and hide photos and videos so they don’t display in your feed.
What can I do if it seems like my kid can’t stop looking at Instagram?
All social media uses persuasive techniques to keep users engaged, and while it can help kids feel connected to friends and family — especially during times of isolation like extended school breaks — it’s easy to get sucked in for longer periods than is healthy. If your teen has trouble logging off when they have other stuff to do or they just need a break, you can try using Instagram’s Your Activity feature, which the company introduced to help people be more aware of the time they’re spending on the app and to set limits for themselves.
To get to Your Activity, go to the profile page, tap the three horizontal lines, select Your Activity, and then tap Time. You’ll see your daily average, and you can set a time limit and get a reminder to stop. If your kid has mastered self-regulation, Your Activity may work to curb their use. If not, you can try using the parental controls built into your phone’s operating system (Screen Time on iOS or the Family Link app on Android) to block access and set time limits on all the apps on your kid’s phone.
A few other tricks:
Adjust or turn off notifications completely to calm the need to check the phone every few minutes; and tell kids to stop scrolling once they see the “You’re all caught up!” message that tells them there’s no new content to see since the last time they checked.