It can be tough to keep up with all of the different apps that today’s teenagers are using. Teens spend a lot of time on their phones and other mobile devices, and it can be hard for parents to keep up. However, if you’re the parent of a teenager, you probably have heard about Instagram, a social media platform that allows users to present a curated window into their lives through pictures and videos. But is Instagram a harmless distraction for teens? Can it be harmful or even dangerous?
Like any social media, Instagram has its benefits and its drawbacks, and parents need to be aware of how and why teens are using the platform. Take a look at some of the most important things you need to know about Instagram.
Having More Than One Instagram Account
It’s not unheard of for teens to have more than one account on the same social media platform, but this practice is so widespread on Instagram that it has its own name: Finsta. A Finsta is a “fake Instagram” – an alternate Instagram profile that isn’t as public or as widely-shared as your teen’s main account.
While the idea of your teen having a secret second Instagram profile sounds bad, Finstas aren’t always a bad thing. Some teens use them as a way to be more vulnerable and open than they feel comfortable being on their main account. For example, a teen might use their Finsta to post silly, fun pictures of themselves instead of the carefully-chosen pictures they present to the rest of the world. Or they may use their Finsta to talk about serious subjects that are on their minds, like mental health concerns, in a place where only a few select, trusted friends can see and respond. Teens know that their social media profiles may be scrutinized in the future when they apply for colleges or jobs, so they might use a Finsta account to allow them to post more freely about sensitive or controversial subjects that they wouldn’t want to come up in a public search.
On the other hand, Finstas can be used for less positive purposes as well. If you’re following your teen on Instagram, they may use their Finsta to post the things that they don’t want you to see, such as pictures of them at a party you wouldn’t approve of or hanging out with a boyfriend or girlfriend that you don’t know about.
Finstas can also be used for cyberbullying. Some teens use Finstas to post rude or harassing comments on other people’s posts anonymously. That way, it’s difficult for the victims to report harassment to parents or school officials since the account isn’t obviously linked to the teenager who created it.
Your Teen Could be Targeted for Harassment or Grooming
Not everything that happens on Instagram happens out in the open. Many parents don’t realize that Instagram has a direct messaging feature, but it does. This feature is another reason why you shouldn’t assume that if you’re following your teen on Instagram, you’re seeing everything there is to see. You can’t see messages exchanged between your teen and another user on the direct messaging feature.
Why is that a problem? Because you don’t know if your teen is being harassed by a peer or groomed by a predator through direct messaging. When it comes to online harassment, parents of teens have to worry about both the possibility that their teen is harassing others and the possibility that their teen is doing the harassment. In fact, it’s not uncommon for teens to be both victims and perpetrators of cyber-bullying.
Teens can also be vulnerable to online predators on social media platforms like Instagram. The premise of the platform – a place to post videos and pictures – offers an easy opening for predators who want to get close to vulnerable teenagers. It’s easy for them to message with a compliment or comment on something that your teen has posted as a way of starting a dialogue. From there, they may move on to more personal talk, and sometimes to sending or soliciting pictures or videos or even asking to meet in person. It’s important to talk to teens about the potential dangers of interacting with strangers online – especially strangers who appear in their direct messages with no prior interaction.
Instagram Can Be Hard on Your Teen’s Self-Esteem
Even when no one is using the platform inappropriately, Instagram can have drawbacks. Parents, school officials, and other experts have expressed concerns about the way that Instagram can affect a teenager’s self-esteem. It’s easy for a teen to begin feeling insecure after scrolling through Instagram for a while – the site can give the impression that everyone else is more attractive, more interesting, and living a more exciting life than the person scrolling through the site.
Of course, that impression isn’t really accurate. The way Instagram users tend to use the site is by uploading the pictures of themselves that are the most attractive and most interesting. Users don’t upload pictures of themselves when they’re feeling frumpy or sitting around on the couch binging Netflix. Users provide a highly-curated image of themselves designed to draw in positive attention. This can lead some teens to feel that they’re less popular, less attractive, or less interesting than they really are because they’re unfairly comparing themselves and their lives to a very selective version of their peers’ lives.
Model accounts can add to these feelings of insecurity. Model accounts include fitness, fashion, and beauty product focused accounts that include images of professionally made up celebrities, internet influencers, and others who often make a living out of looking attractive, thin, fit, and healthy. Following these accounts can cause teens to feel unsatisfied with their bodies and looks and pressured to keep up with unreasonable standards of attractiveness.
What Should Parents Do?
What’s the answer to these Instagram drawbacks? Banning the platform outright is likely to be ineffective, especially for older teens. Parents should keep a close eye on their teens’ Instagram and social media usage, however, and talk openly about subjects like cyberbullying online predators, and body image. Parents should also keep an eye out for signs that their teens are struggling because of their exposure to images and messages on social media. Counseling and therapy can help teens learn to overcome challenges and approach Instagram and other social media sites in a healthy way.