I was reading an article this week posted by a fairly well respected professional in the digital parenting space, and he/she was going through some sites and apps and reviewing whether they are safe for kids under 13 (the age limit for most social media sites). I won’t call out the name or the author or site here; we’re not trying to pick a fight. I was surprised that in this site’s opinion, Instagram and Twitter are indeed safe for kids under 13. We don’t agree, and suspect that most parents who aren’t active on social media and apps don’t have a full understanding of why.
We’ll explain below why they might not be totally safe, but first, here’s how they can be. Let’s say your tween has a Twitter or Instagram account. Her user experience might be safe and wholesome if the following are true:
- Her account settings are set to private, and stay that way
- She does not post personally identifying information, contact information or screen names from other services in her profile or posts
- Geo Tags (GPS location tracking) are turned – off all the time. You don’t want other users tracking her location
- She only accepts follow requests from people she knows in real life
- She only follows people who she knows in real life, and who post completely age-appropriate and non-harassing content
- She only posts age-appropriate content, and never engages in cyberbullying
- She never, ever seeks out content other than that posted by folks on her friends list
The above set of things is doable, but requires a huge leap of faith on the part of a parent. Do you feel lucky?
If you have access to your child’s phone and passwords, and a working understanding of Instagram and Twitter, you can check periodically to make sure that numbers 1-6 are as they should be. Number 7, though, is pretty much out of your control. For one thing, most kids who use social media do it primarily on their phone, and their phone goes wherever they go. You can’t watch that 24/7.
Second, let’s consider some things that are true of Instagram and Twitter, and will come into play if your child does do a search on one of those sites for content outside her network. Believe me – that will happen.
A look at what’s out there
Nudity is permitted on Twitter but is not on Instagram. That being said, nude photos are posted to Instagram, and remain there until reported and deleted. Before you say, “my child wouldn’t go looking for porn”, there is such a thing as accidental porn. Even if your child isn’t looking for porn, she might run across it accidentally.
Drug and alcohol pictures and references are common on both networks. Think of it this way – parents are all familiar with friends who post on Facebook with the attention-seeking equivalent of “look at me” pics. For the younger generation that has largely moved to Instagram and Snapchat, so party pictures and the like are common. Also, if you are looking to buy illegal drugs, Instagram is a pretty good place to start.
Adult language is very common on both.
Cyberbullying – Even if your child is not a bully, she can see some very good examples of how cyberbullying can garner likes, followers, laughs and attention on both networks.
Popularity contests are an issue, especially on Instagram. A search on Instagram for the hashtag #rateme returns 189,000 results. A similar search for #hotornot has 114,000 pictures tagged as such. Incidentally, if your daughter does post a selfie tagged with #hotornot, in all likelihood she will at least temporarily set her account to public to maximize her chances of getting votes.
Self-harm and body issue posts are an issue, particularly on Instagram. The hashtag #thynspo (short for thin-inspirspirtion for people with eating disorders and the like) has been banned, but kids know that you can just add a letter to the end to find the results you’re looking for. 74,000 pictures are tagged #thinspoo. 46,000 pics are tagged #thinspooo.
We could go on, but kids who aren’t mature enough to deal with seeing seriously adult content should be kept off of Instagram, Twitter and a lot of other sites and networks that offer easy access to adult content and situations. If your child is 13 or older, as a parent you can decide. If your child is under 13 and you agree to let her join, you need to understand the risks.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.