Sometimes I take my knowledge of social media for granted. Because the truth is that while everyone under the age of 18 has never known a world without internet or cell phones, most parents have a hard time keeping up. My work requires me to use and be heavily involved with social media, and even I’m still not sure what the true purpose of Snapchat is.

Yesterday afternoon a friend of mine posted something on Facebook that I found disturbing as a parent. The photo below (posted with permission) is a screen shot of a photo that her daughter had posted on Instagram. This isn’t some image I grabbed online or from a friend of a friend. I actually know the child – the gorgeous, sweet, intelligent and kind child – in this photo and she attends the same school as my daughter.

The Parent’s Guide to Instagram (& How to Protect Your Kids on the Service)-part 1-1The vile comment posted on her picture was posted from an anonymous account with the name “[juniorhighname]hatepage”. An anonymous account created by (we assume) another student to post nasty and hateful messages on the photos of their classmates. In this case, that nasty and hateful message was aimed at a 12 year old girl – and was likely posted by another child close to the same age.

And this isn’t an isolated incident. In 2013 a woman posted after being horrified at the “beauty pageants” she witnessed on her daughter’s Insta. They put up a collage of four girls and ask who’s ugliest. Then they cross off the “winner” and ask the same question about the remaining three girls until the one with the least amount of negative comments “wins”.

A few months ago, I saw many of my hometown friends sharing an article about my old high school. It seems they had a fight club going on – complete with an official Insta account which posted videos and pictures of the fights.

We’re ingrained with the desire to protect our children from strangers. But, we often don’t think about the need to protect them from their “friends”. And even less do we even fathom that we need to ensure our own children aren’t the ones being jackasses on social media.

I’m lucky in that my children know that I know how to use most social media networks better than they do. We’ve set the rules and they’re confident we know how to find out if they’ve broken them. We’ve setup their accounts and know how to keep them as secure as we possibly can.

But what’s a non technically inclined parent to do?

Take responsibility. That’s what. For not only the protection of your child, but also in regards to monitoring that your child is behaving in a way that they wouldn’t want to hide from you. We can’t simply accept our ignorance of the tools our children are using to communicate with one another – while everyone is listening.

Before we begin, let’s get one thing straight

Before I get into how to monitor your kids on Instagram, I want to be very clear on one thing. If you’d never let your [insert under whatever age you’ve deemed appropriate to use social media here] use Instagram, that’s fantastic.

For your sake, I hope they haven’t figured out how to create a free gmail account, download the app without your knowledge, create a free username associated with said gmail account and aren’t smart enough to delete their Insta (which literally takes one second) when they get home from school because they know they’d get grounded if they got caught and then redownload the app (which takes less than 2 minutes) the next morning on their way out the door. Because if they have, then you’re not monitoring it.

If your child has an iPhone, open their app store application and do a search for Instagram. When the Instagram application shows up, if you see a “cloud” in the upper right hand next to the application instead of a box with “+FREE” inside it, it means that at some point, Instagram was downloaded to your child’s phone even if it’s since been deleted.

The Parent’s Guide to Instagram (& How to Protect Your Kids on the Service)-part 1-2We made the decision to allow it when they asked for it, so we could monitor it. Not everyone does. And to each his own. I respect every parent’s right to raise their child how they see fit. This is a guide for those that allow it – not a place to pass judgement on those who allow it.

What instagram is

Instagram (often referred to as Insta) is a free photo sharing application for your phone. You take a picture, you can add a “filter” to it (to make it black and white or to make it look vintage, etc.), add a description of the photo, tag friends (if applicable), add “hashtags” (more on that below) to “label” the topic of the photo and then you upload it to the site. Then other people can view your photo, like your photo or comment on your photo. The service also allows users to upload 3-15 second videos in the same manner.

Setting up instagram

You download the app and install it on your device. You’ll have the option to login using a Facebook login or registering an account with an email address. I make my kids do the latter, so that I can access it more easily should I ever need to do so. I know the email, I know the password. If I every try to login to find the password changed, it’s an immediate loss of their devices for a month. They know that rule and they know we’re serious about it.

Changing the profile & privacy settings

Once you’ve logged in, you’ll want to head to their main profile page (the icon on the bottom right that looks like a driver’s license). On that screen top right, you will see 3 horizontal bars. Click on them and you’ll see the setting at the very bottom. Click setting and follow this direction: privacy and security>Account Privacy. there is a button that says “Private Account” – you want to make sure that box is on (the button will turn blue when it’s on).

This means that the only people who can follow and see the photos your child posts are people your child approves. Our rule on this is that if our child has not met someone in person, they are not allowed to accept a follow request from them.

If you’re changing the privacy settings on an existing account

If you’re changing the privacy settings on an already existing account, it will ONLY affect new followers. Anyone who randomly followed your child prior to that setting being enacted will still be able to.

If it were me, I’d go through the list of who is following my child (click on “followers” which will be on the top of the profile screen with the number of however many people are following them above it, to see the list of who is following them). Anyone who can’t pass the “do you know them in person” test would be removed.

The Parent’s Guide to Instagram (& How to Protect Your Kids on the Service)-part 1-3To remove people already following your child for whatever reason, click on their name and then click the arrow at the top right of their profile. A screen will pop up and give you an option to “Block User” – click that option and they’ll no longer be following your child.

Keeping their private information private

You’ll also want to ensure your child’s phone number is not listed in their profile under “PRIVATE INFORMATION” – yes, I know it says it’s private but there is no reason their number needs to be listed.

Omit the highlighted text, please!

The Parent’s Guide to Instagram (& How to Protect Your Kids on the Service)-part 1-4Keep in mind that the display name, profile picture and bio are visible to everyone, whether or not they follow your child. I’d recommend you leave the display name as a user name, or at most your child’s first name only.

Set tags so they have to be manually approved

One bad thing about Instagram (to me anyway) is that you can tag (say a photo is about a specific user) any user in a photo. Whether or not they follow you and whether or not you even know them. Anyone with an Instagram account can tag anyone else with an Instgram account. There is no way to prevent people from tagging you.

However, you can at least tick a setting that won’t allow any tags of you to show unless you manually approve them. On your profile page, click the square icon with a person inside it.

The Parent’s Guide to Instagram (& How to Protect Your Kids on the Service)-part 1-5When that screen opens, there will be a listing of photos you have been tagged in. Click the three horizontal bars on top right of the screen and follow the steps below:

This will at least mean you have to approve a tag of you in a photo before it appears on your profile.

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