Everything a Parent Needs to Know About INSTAGRAM

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Instagram currently reigns as one of the most popular app and fastest-growing apps among teens and adults alike. For that reason alone it’s important for parents to know what Instagram is all about. But many parents assume that Instagram is just about sharing pictures; that because it’s interface is so simple, it’s also harmless.

That assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth.

In 2014, the New York Daily News reported that a Texas couple named Reymundo Esquivel and Shellie Tingel-Esquivel filed a lawsuit against six children who had relentlessly bullied their 16-year-old daughter. They were suing the children for libel, and suing their parents for negligence.

The students used none other than Instagram to mercilessly harass their daughter with online photographs, comments, captions and even partially nude images that one attorney said could be classified as child pornography.

The bullies even created a separate Instagram account specifically dedicated to posting “disturbing” pictures of the victim. The account received 900 followers before the Esquivels sought a court-ordered restraining order to have it taken down. The Esquivels were particularly concerned that the harassment — which started in person but escalated online, giving the girl nowhere to hide — followed the same pattern of that suffered by Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide in 2012 after being similarly victimized on Instagram.

So, What Exactly is Instagram?


Instagram is a social imaging site — a network of connected users who communicate and share by posting photographs. The name is a cross between “instant” — as in instant camera — and “gram” — short for “telegram.”

The app is free, it can be downloaded on any device and it allows users to alter their images using filters before sharing them with their communities.

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Instagram not only connects users with each other, but it links to existing social accounts, including Facebook, Twitter and Flickr so that photos from Instagram can be shared directly with these accounts. That means that, once shared, a photo can still be posted online, even if it’s been removed from Instagram.

Everyone Loves Instagram — Especially Teens

When it comes to photo-sharing apps, there is Instagram and there is everything else.

  • Users share 70 million new photos every single day.
  • Around 8,500 likes and 1,000 comments are left every second!

With stats like these, it’s no surprise that Instagram is the seventh most popular social media site in the country. But unlike YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+ and the others, Instagram is critical to teen life.

A full 30 percent of teens consider it to be the most important social network — even more important than Facebook and Twitter, the number one and number two juggernauts.

So how exactly are teens using Instagram?

For many teens, Instagram functions as a “digital diary” they can share with their closest friends. Teens prefer Instagram because they can follow the friends they care about, and avoid the bulk of sponsored posts and random content that appear on the feeds of sites like Facebook.

These aren’t random moments, however: those are for Snapchat. Instagram is for the best photos that present a teen in the best light — the most flattering selfies, the coolest things they’re out doing or eating.

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In a way, it’s the perfect tool for age-old adolescent popularity contests. The more likes a picture gets, the more popular and validated a teen feels.

This of course has its dark sides, as no likes or negative comments can lower a teen’s self-esteem. It can also be a contributing factor to screen addiction – which should be a serious concern for all parents, given that 14 percent of all Instagram users report checking their account while driving.  

Other Dangers Teens Face on Instagram

Instagram leaves the door wide open for teens to share too much personal information, including full first and last name, age, gender, email address and phone number. Similarly, geo-tagging — one of the most popular Instagram features — can reveal your teen’s location, and the exact spot that a picture was taken.

Not to mention — all those shared photos can also count as “too much information”!  

According to Instagram’s own FAQ, all photos uploaded are automatically made public by default. This can be changed to a private setting, which only reveals photos to approved followers, but until that action is taken, every photo your teen uploads is visible to anyone with an Instagram account.

And just any other social media site, your teen is likely to encounter follow requests from strangers, some of whom could easily be posing or pretending to be someone they are not.

Bullying on Instagram

Instagram is filled with teenagers who share photos and make comments in groups. It is, therefore, a platform that is ripe for gossip and harassment. Since it is online, the bullying can follow children home from school and leave them with no safe place. Young girls are especially at risk.

Nine percent of teen girls report being bullied on Instagram. Like with all online harassment, bullying on Instagram can take several forms.

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The most common form of Instagram bullying is simply posting embarrassing or humiliating photos of the victim, which the victim would clearly not want made public.

Other ways teens bully each other on Instagram include:

Comment Bullying: Posting hurtful or antagonistic comments on the victim’s photos, especially if the bully frequently targets the victim.

Hashtag Bullying: Using embarassing or ugly hashtags — which are designed to make posts gain traction and go viral — to attack victims. One especially demeaning hashtag that went viral was #TryWeightWatchers.

@mentions: Using the victim’s @username in a caption on a photo that is unrelated to the victim, but that contains hurtful or inappropriate language. An example would be using the @username of a victim with bodyweight issues in the caption under a photo of a whale.

Rating Looks:  A popular current trend on Instagram is to rate pictures of girls according to their looks, which not only exposes teens to strangers, but opens them up to criticism, attacks on their self esteem and online bullying.

Fake Accounts: Creating fake accounts or pretending to be someone else may seem extreme, but as the Esquivels found out, it can be devastating. False profiles are used to attack the victim, goad them into revealing information or tricking them into making statements that can then be shared publicly.

Sharing Private Images:  Sharing screenshots of private communications, such as text messages.

What do Parents Need to Know?

Parents should take the first step of visiting Instagram’s tips for parents section, which includes printable versions of their community standards and guidelines. This includes their policy regarding decency, as well as the exceptions to the rules. Nudity, for example, is prohibited on Instagram, but photos of breastfeeding and post-mastectomy pictures are allowed.

As with all social media, parents should monitor their teen’s online activity, but their most potent weapon is dialogue. Explain to your child the dangers associated with social sharing, that it is your responsibility as a parent to monitor their activity, and explain why you’re monitoring to avoid resentment and trust issues.

The outcome of the Esquivel’s lawsuit is yet to be determined, but the statement is clear. Cyberbullying is real, and its negative — and perhaps permanent — effects on victims is unacceptable. Instagram is used by millions of people for the harmless purpose of sharing pictures and staying in touch. For some teens, however, it is the weapon of choice used by those who bully, harass and exploit them.

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