Steps parents can follow to assist teens to handle Instagram safely

Date:15 March 2022 Author: Byron Lukas Tags:,

The social media platform, Instagram (IG) is one of the most popular social media platforms in the world, particularly among teenagers with the photo-sharing app ranked third in terms of preferred social networks among teenagers in the United States, second to Snapchat and TikTok.

According to research from World Wide Worx in partnership with Ornico, there are 10 million Instagram users in South Africa, making the platform one of the biggest and most popular in the country.

Social media can also be a fun way to connect with friends, share content, and pursue various creative interests. On the opposite end of the scale, however, unsupervised and untrammelled social media access has been shown to have a negative impact on teens.

Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal found that using social media more than three times a day predicted poor mental health and well-being in teens. Children aged 13-17 make up 8% of Instagram’s entire userbase, with the Meta-owned [formerly Facebook] photo-sharing platform boasting almost 1.4 billion active users of all ages every month.

According to the CEO of ESET South Africa, Carey van Vlaanderen, Instagram is not immune to the variety of threats linked to social media including cyberbullying, predators, scams and inappropriate content.

“As parents and caregivers, it’s important to be aware of both the positive and negative influence of social media on teenagers. For many parents though, the challenge is understanding the various social media platforms well enough to keep teens away from harm,” Van Vlaanderen said.

Account Privacy

Any account on Instagram can be public or private. While recent measures by Instagram have been taken to automatically have users under 16 set up with private accounts when they join Instagram, it is possible for that option to be manually set to public. A private account is generally the better option, as it requires the owner to approve any follow activity and who can view their content.

If a public profile is an option your teen wants, and you agree, consider discussing the risks carefully: letting everybody see everything on their feed might provide unsavoury characters with enough material to use for nefarious purposes.

Sliding into DMs

Not everything that happens on Instagram is visible – teenagers do not just like and comment on each other’s posts or watch each other’s stories – they also “slide into each other’s DMs”. This means sending a direct message or DM. DMs are a big part of Instagram’s culture. It’s therefore sensible to have control over who is messaging your children.

While Instagram prevents adults from sending messages to anyone under 18 unless they follow those adults, safety features recently rolled out by the platform to protect young users include prompts and safety notices to encourage vigilance in teens during conversations with adults they’re already following.

Comments, Tags, and Mentions

Comments, tags, and mentions are more ways users can interact with each other. It would be wise to ensure random strangers can’t tag your children to prevent any inappropriate interactions. Instagram’s online support pages provide detailed guidance on removing tags, unwanted comments and managing privacy settings.

Stop the trolls by hiding and filtering

Social media interactions can sometimes turn sour with malicious comments and insulting messages. This is often the work of online trolls who try to encourage negative comments or enrage commenters further. As trolling can evolve into cyberbullying or cyberstalking, Instagram has a handful of features and settings to protect users from abusive behaviour. This is found under Instagram’s Hidden Words setting.

Parents and users are able to hide offensive comments by turning on Instagram’s comment filtering system which will conceal comments containing flagged words or set up a custom word list to include offending terminology.

Safety should not be an after thought

Whether your teenagers use Instagram to socialise, stay up to date with trends or share their lives, privacy and security should not be overlooked. Parents can better supervise their teenager’s Instagram if they become familiar with the platform, so consider nudging your teen to take additional steps themselves aimed at promoting rational use of the app.

School before cool

Algorithms on social media apps attempt to keep users on the platform for longer, many times distracting teenagers to the detriment of schoolwork and studying. In addition to providing a secure environment where links out to malicious content can be controlled, products like ESET’s Security and ESET Parental Control has the ability for parents and caregivers to curate the content categories accessed across devices children are using to connect to the internet, whether it’s a laptop, tablet or cellphone.

Picture: Supplied

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