The digital content our children consume in an almost endless loop comes in a myriad of forms and formats. In order to illustrate WHAT your child might be seeing, let’s take the example of one of the most popular apps among tweens and teens: Instagram. Chances are if you have a tween or teen using social media, he/she is using Instagram. It was recently voted the most important social platform for teens.
NOTE: Instagram is a social media site where users post photos taken through the app and posted for the user’s “followers”. Unlike Facebook there is no synchronous agreement of “friends” – on Instagram (like Twitter) your account is open to the public for anyone to see what you’ve posted. There is no “agreement” to see each other’s content, unless the user locks their account to private, an option used by only 12% of IG/TW users.
In your child’s engagement with Instagram (and many other social media sites) – they will see/experience/consume many types of content:
The actual photo posted by your child; which may or may not be sexual – and can be considered felony child pornography even when the photo is NOT nude, and even when your child has taken the photo of him/her self (parent control: none)
The actual photo posted by another user that your child follows – in other words, photos posted by others which your child is experiencing. These can obviously be sexual, violent, disturbing, etc. (parent control:none)
The comments which appear after any photo; which may or may not be sexual, hostile/bullying, threatening (parent control: none)
…which your child may use in an effort to categorize their content and makes it easier for other users to sift through hundreds of millions of photographic content. If your child is searching for “#SexyBoy” – the content she finds may not be what she is expecting. The same is true in reverse when your child tags her photo as “PrettyYoungThing” – which expands the reach of that photo to unintentioned/undesired eyes. (parent control: none)
The user accounts which your child chooses to follow; which may or may not be appropriate (parent control: you can snoop and delete follows – which of course presumes that your child will not re-follow when you’re not looking) – those accounts contain (obviously) their own set of content, comments, etc
The user accounts which follow YOUR child. Your child may have followers from anywhere in the world, literally. Your child may think that he/she is being followed by a 15yo child from a neighboring town when the follower is actually a 48 year old man pretending to be a younger child with the purpose of luring the child into a conversation or an in-person meet. (parent control: none – unless #1:your child keeps their account private and doesn’t switch from private to public, and back like most kids do AND #2:as a parent you go through the list of your child’s followers weekly and ensure that YOU know every single person who is following your child – and you can confirm that you have personally met them in real life
The raw number of followers your child has Most tween and teens derive some level of self-worth by the actual number of likes, shares, and followers he/she has on any given social media site. Tweens and teens are keenly aware of the social pecking order which has been oh so conveniently quantified by social media engagement. (parent control: none except for #5 note above)
Your child may intentionally or accidentally tag the location where a photo was taken through the Instagram platform. That location becomes a literal dot on a map to your home, your child’s school, or wherever else the photo was taken. Your children know that tagging a location results in MORE photo views, MORE photo likes, and MORE comments. In fact statistically – Instagram posts with location data result in 79% higher engagement. (parent control: none. Location is assigned by the user on a photo-by-photo basis)
Instagram now allows you to shoot up to 15 seconds of video for distribution in the same way as photos. This puts your child in the position of potentially being the subject of the video (whether they know it or not) AND/OR becoming the consumer of the video that someone else may post. Obviously the huge risk here is extremely graphic sexual or violent content. (parent control: none)
!!!! PRIVATE MESSAGING aka “Instagram Direct”
Any Instagram user can private message ANY OTHER Instagram user whether or not the account is private and whether or not the sender officially “follows” the intended receiver. That private message can include either a photo or a video. Just to be clear: ANYONE can send your child videos or photos regardless of their privacy settings. Conversely, your child can send ANYONE photos or videos of themselves (privately) without knowing the receiver and without the receiver first following your child’s account.
The risk for sexual predation and sexting here is huge. The two aspects which contribute to this are the privacy factor and the ability to send to anyone. This kind of “isolated” communication between individuals (especially with strangers) is precisely the sort of scenario which parents should seek to avoid at all costs. (parent control: none)
Most social media platforms or apps like Instagram are an all-or-nothing proposition when it comes to content exposure. As a parent you don’t have the ability to cherry pick permissions or settings. You cannot, for example, as a parent turn off your child’s ability to add locations to images from the settings screen of the app. It’s all or nothing: either you use the app WITH the geolocation option in place or you don’t use the app at all.
In this sense – as a parent you are either accepting the possibility that your child will consume every kind of content listed above with little to no ability to control what your child sees….or you don’t allow your child to use Instagram at all. Those are your only two choices.
As parents, all we can do is continue to engage with our children and with each other. If you learn something new, here or anywhere else, share it with your friends. Share the knowledge and the support with the global community of parents.
We’re all in this together.
– Big Mama