Your teen and Instagram: What you need to know to protect your child from online threats

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Not everything that happens on Instagram is visible. (Getty Images)
Not everything that happens on Instagram is visible. (Getty Images)

Despite a previous exposé highlighting the detrimental impact Instagram has on teen girls, the platform remains as popular as ever. 

According to the most recent SA Social Media Landscape Report, South Africa has 7.1 million Instagram users, a huge jump up from its 4.7 million users the previous year. 

And while the report did break down users by age, research by shows that 8% of Instagram's userbase are children aged  13-17

Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO of the internet security company, ESET South Africa, believes that now more than ever, parents and caregivers need to be aware of social media's influence on their tweens and teens. 

Here she provides the information parents need to know about Instagram to protect their teens from potential internet threats. 

Account Privacy 

Any account on Instagram can be public or private. While users under 16  are automatically set up with private accounts when they join, it is possible for that option to be manually set to public. A private account is generally the better option, as it requires the owner to approve any follow activity and who can view their content.  If a public profile is the option your teen wants, and you agree, consider discussing the risks carefully.

Letting everybody see everything on their feed might provide unsavoury characters with enough material to use for nefarious purposes. 


Sliding into DMs 

Not everything that happens on Instagram is visible - teenagers do not just like and comment on each other's posts or watch each other's stories – they also "slide into each other's DMs". This means to send a direct message or DM. DMs are a big part of Instagram's culture. It's therefore sensible to have control over who is messaging your children.   While Instagram prevents adults from sending messages to anyone under 18 unless they follow those adults, safety features recently rolled out by the platform to protect young users include prompts and safety notices to encourage vigilance in teens during conversations with adults they're already following.   

Comments, Tags, and Mentions 

Comments, tags, and mentions are more ways users can interact. It would be wise to ensure random strangers can't tag your children to prevent any inappropriate interactions. Instagram's online support pages provide detailed guidance on removing tags, unwanted comments and managing privacy settings.   

Stop the trolls by hiding and filtering  

Social media interactions can sometimes turn sour with malicious comments and insulting messages. This is often the work of online trolls who try to encourage negative comments or enrage commenters further. As trolling can evolve into cyberbullying or cyberstalking, Instagram has a handful of features and settings to protect users from abusive behaviour. This is found under Instagram's Hidden Words setting.  Parents and users can hide offensive comments by turning on Instagram's comment filtering system to conceal comments containing flagged words or set up a custom word list to include offending terminology.   

Safety should not be an afterthought 

Whether your teenagers use Instagram to socialise, stay up to date with trends or share their lives, privacy and security should not be overlooked.  Parents can better supervise their teenager's Instagram if they become familiar with the platform, so consider nudging your teen to take additional steps themselves to promote rational use of the app. Open discussions with your teenager about both the dangers and benefits of the app will help to encourage sensible and safe use of Instagram.  

School before cool 

Algorithms on social media apps attempt to keep users on the platform for longer, often distracting teenagers to the detriment of schoolwork and studying. In addition to providing a secure environment where links out to malicious content can be controlled, parental control apps and software can help parents and caregivers curate content, whether a child uses a laptop, tablet or cellphone. The added benefit is that access times and screen times can be managed, too. 

With proper dialogue and understanding, children learn to see it as something in their best interest and value the time they get to enjoy and provide a more productive focus on school and schoolwork.  


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