Pros and Cons of Instagram for Preteens
Preteens are among the most frequent and dedicated social media users. Whether it’s FaceBook, YouTube, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, or any of the other numerous social media channels, preteens are using them at a high frequency and putting themselves at risk for potential online dangers.
There are countless stories of children being viciously cyberbullied and the resulting damage to their self-esteem, as well as scores of horror stories about predatory activity and exposure to inappropriate content. But does using social media offer any benefits as a counterbalance to these risks? As with any phenomena trending with kids, parents should be aware of the pros and cons so informed decisions and realistic guidelines for appropriate usage can be made.
Instagram (In a Nutshell)
Instagram is one of the most popular of social media sites with preteens. Where some other once popular social media platforms have faded from favor, Instagram seems to be picking up steam and gaining popularity. Owned by FaceBook, Instagram is a free app that allows users to take, edit, enhance, and post pictures instantaneously, and allows others to like and and “follow” the user. Other than the typical “user’s remorse” of regretting a posted picture, are there really risks involved?
The Risks for Preteens on Instagram
Yes, there are risks involved on Instagram. Most social media sites require users to be 13 years old due to COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). This prevents children’s information from being collected via online sites. However, it does little to protect them from inappropriate content not meant for children. Although there are approximately 7 million preteens on FaceBook (which owns Instagram…you make the connection), Instagram does not make a stringent effort at keeping kids out. There are no barriers to entering and setting up an account. Anyone can use a false name to register. No age or personal data has to be given. And unless their account is set to private, anyone can access and follow their pictures. In an effort to offer some level of protection, Instagram does have dedicated protective channels in place where fellow users can report an underage user.
In actuality, these nominal protection efforts do little to minimize the risk to children. Many preteens are not savvy enough to understand the risk of giving away personal information, despite parents’ efforts to warn them. Many think nothing of giving away their phone number, their location, their birthday, their email, and so on. Building upon that, kids may not understand the validity of needing to make their accounts private so this type of information does not go to the general public. Maintaining a public account allows them to accept complete strangers as followers to gain the social media popularity that seems to be so important to preteens and their sense of acceptance. On that same note, a child also can request to follow and pursue friendships with relative strangers. Both of these scenarios increase the threat of unwanted, inappropriate advances from strangers or harassment and/cyberbullying from “friends”.
Additionally, Instagram does not have any kind of filter to block nudity or inappropriate content. The fact it is readily accessible on iPhones, Android phones, iPads, and even iPods means children are being faced with a constant barrage of images parents may or may not want them to see. As if this isn’t bad enough, preteens (especially females) feel social pressure to post inappropriate or suggestive picture of themselves for popularity and to avoid being “ranked” unfavorably in trends of rating young girls as “hot or not” and reading all the hateful comments that may accompany such rankings.
Perhaps the most alarming threat of Instagram is it’s option to send private direct messages to others. These can be sent to individuals or to groups, and the information (ie; pictures) are sent privately with no notification, meaning a tween’s picture could be shared in a group message without her knowledge or consent. Instagram Direct allows these messages to go to up to fifteen people, and the people in the message do not have to be known followers on your child’s account. Further, this direct messaging service also enables children to receive pictures or videos from complete strangers, which completely nullifies the point of setting up a private account.
Why Would Parents Allow Preteens to Have an Instagram?
Instagram can be an excellent platform for kids to become producers and not just consumers. It can enhance their creative abilities and actually encourage critical thinking and artistic skills. Many preteens learn to hone photography skills and explore how to edit and modify photos using an array of filters and options. Being able to create and share allows them to express themselves. In turn, this allows them to build self-esteem and a sense of self-awareness.
Building upon this, studies are showing that frequently using social media such as Instagram actually strengthens friendships, offers a sense of belonging, provides emotional support, and affords opportunity for kids to “do good”. Specifically, 52% of teens feel social media has helped their friendships, while only 4% say it has been hurtful. Almost 30% of users believe it makes them more confident and outgoing; 15% say it makes them feel better about themselves; and a full 10% say it makes them feel less depressed.
Social media actually brings the world closer to preteens, making them feel less isolated and more as if they belong to their peer group. Through this group, they receive emotional and spiritual encouragement, easily find others they share common interests with, and even build social skills when used appropriately.
Instagram also can bring awareness about important social issues or events to preteens. It can expose them to issues around the world and give them an opportunity to have a voice and get involved, whether it’s showing up for a fundraising event they found out about or posting positive words of encouragement.
Just as with any decision facing parents, families need to weigh all the pros and cons when considering Instagram. Some of the cons can be prevented by parents talking openly with children about internet safety, setting parameters and guidelines for appropriate usage, and initiating and monitoring parent apps to ensure safety.