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Teens and Tweens Flock to Instagram: What Parents Need to Know (Updated)

This guide has been updated in May, 2013

By Larry Magid

Instagram — a photo snapping, editing and posting smart phone app for Android and Apple devices  — has become very popular among teens and tweens.  The product allows users to snap a photo, apply a “filter” to enhance or modify it, and then instantly share it with other Instagram users as well as people on Facebook, Twitter and other services.

Like any social networking service, there are both benefits and risks — the main risk being that you might share something and regret it later because it jeopardized someone’s privacy or embarrassed you or others — which is especially easy to do with a smart phone camera. Although there are extremely few cases where children have been harmed by strangers in social media, parents naturally do worry about their child’s images being seen by people they know know as well as the potential (and avoidable) risk of sharing location data.

Talk with your kids

Parents should talk with their kids about whether they’re using Instagram and, if so, what they’re doing with it. You might want to ask your child if he or she is familiar with the privacy settings and have a brief talk about the appropriate use of photo sharing. Try to make it a conversation rather than a lecture and if you’re not familiar with Instagram, see if your child can explain how to use it — it might be fun for you too.

Service requires users to be 13+ but many younger kids use it

In compliance with federal law, the service’s rules require that users be 13 or older, but  it doesn’t ask users to enter their date of birth and a lot of young kids (many with their parents permission) are using the service. Whether it’s “safe” for younger users depends more on how they use the service than how old they are, if your kids (teens or tweens) are using Instagram, I do recommend that you go over some basic guidelines around privacy and appropriate use.

Privacy setting

By default, anyone can follow you on Instagram and see your pictures and comments but you can configure it so you to approve future follow requests.  To do this:

1. Click the menu button from the right side of the app

2. Then click on the little gear in the upper right corner

3. Scroll down to Photos are Private. By default it’s OFF but you can turn it on. Instagram will ask if you’re sure and you want to click “Yes I’m sure.”  You can always change this later


Instagram can also display a map of where your photos were taken, but this too can be toggled off and on and it’s a good idea for kids not to disclose their physical location. You can find instructions here on how to turn location on and off.

Parents might also want to urge their children not to share their Instagram photos on other networks, especially Twitter and others were the default settings would allow anyone to see them.

Tagging: Photos of You

In May 2013, Instagram introduced its “Photos of You” feature that allows users to tag people in photos.  Instead of using the word “tag,” which is used on Facebook, Instagram is calling it “Add” as in adding names of people to a picture.

After you take a picture, you have the option to “Add People” from the Share screen.  You then tap on a person in the picture and answer the on-screen question. “Who’s this?” You select their name from the drop down menu or you can search for the person. You can also share a picture you’ve already taken by going to the photo and selecting “Add People.” Unlike Facebook, you can only tag photos that you’ve taken. You can’t tag another person’s photo even if you’re in it.

Photos you are tagged in will also appear on your profile by default. You have the option of changing your settings so that you have to manually approve a photo before it’s posted on your profile but just because a photo isn’t on your profile doesn’t mean it’s  invisible. It is still accessible to people who follow the person who posted it.  You can change the settig as follows:



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