Dear Addie: My 11-year-old is begging me to have an Instagram account on her iPod. I don’t really know much about Instagram, but she says that all of her friends have an account. Do you think it’s okay to let her have one? —Laura
Dear Laura: Before I respond, I owe you fair warning: you touched a nerve. What I’m about to say may sound really harsh, but I promise it comes from a good place, and it’s not directed solely at you. After all, you’re taking the time to learn more about your daughter’s online life whereas many parents don’t bother. The problem is that there are too many parents who are clueless about social media and their children’s online activity. And while I have a ton of different responses swirling in my head to your question, here’s the short answer: No. I don’t think it’s okay to let your 11-year-old have an Instagram account. Here’s why:
1. She’s 11. We already covered that, but just wanted to make sure I was clear.
2. In your words, you “don’t really know much about” Instagram. That should be a gigantic red flag waving in the wind and smacking you across the face as it does so. If you don’t know much about it, she shouldn’t be involved with it. It’s sort of a blanket statement on parenting. For example, (God I hope!) you wouldn’t let your daughter get into a car full of strangers and go somewhere that you are completely unfamiliar with regardless of whether her friends were allowed to do it or not. The same is true for Instagram—and any other social media app or website! If you let her go on Instagram (or Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Kik or any of the other myriad options) when you have no idea what it is, it’s the same thing as turning her lose with strangers in a strange place. She’s headed for Cyberspace via a vehicle you’re unfamiliar with. And that, Laura, is a scary, scary thought.
You want to blow your own mind? Download Instagram onto your mobile device and look up some of her classmates’ and friends’ names/handles. (After all, she said all of her friends are on there, right?) I promise you there will be at least one account that appalls you in both its images, comments, followers or any combination of the above. And THOSE are the kids whose parents “don’t really know much about Instagram.”
3. Reason number three why it’s not okay? Cyberbullying. When you do your little Instagram field trip suggested in number two, you may or may not find some comments that fall into the “cyberbullying” category … comments about how a person looks, what they’re wearing, even the pose they’re striking or face they’re making. Not all kids are mean, but there are more than enough unkind children to go around, and they’re hanging out—unsupervised—in social media spaces waiting to pounce. Don’t believe me? Read this. Or this. Or this. And then ask yourself if you would want your daughter to be a party to that sort of activity—either as the victim or the bully.
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4. As a parent, exposure to unsavory content is one of the top concerns for me when it comes to Instagram. While yes, your child can use privacy settings for her own content (and she should. When she turns 13 and you allow her to legally get on Instagram.), she will undoubtedly be exposed to language, imagery and topics that you may prefer she weren’t. And while Instagram recently announced they were going to try to crackdown on the drug sales that were getting lined up via their service (yes, you read that right.), Business Insider confirms that there are still plenty of illegal things going on and being exposed by way of Instagram. Oh, and don’t forget the death threats. I’m gonna let that simmer for a moment …
5. And finally, there is this: you shouldn’t let your child open any social media accounts, regardless of whether she’s old enough or not, until you have educated yourself on the ins and outs of each and every option. Yes, that sounds extreme. But you know what? Parents have been doing extreme things for ages and ages in an effort to both teach lessons and protect their children. You should know which sites she’s active on and what her account login credentials are. That’s not smothering her; that’s protecting her. And that’s what you signed on for when you became a parent, isn’t it?
To find out more about the age-appropriateness of apps, games, movies and more, visit Common Sense Media.
Dear Addie is a wife and mom of three who has done her fair share of diaper changing, morning snuggling, boo-boo kissing, cold nursing, lullaby singing, baby rocking, field trip chaperoning and sideline cheering. She believes that there is no degree required to be a parenting “expert.” You just have to roll up your sleeves, dig in, ask the questions, get the answers, and give it your best shot. Oh, and have a whole lot of love and patience on-hand!
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