Is Instagram Safe for 13-Year Olds?

“Mom, can I have an Instagram?”

“But sweetie, you’re only 13 years old. Maybe we should wait.”

“But mom, all my friends have one and 13 IS THE AGE LIMIT. It’s okay. If I’m not on Insta, I’m a nobody.”

“Let me look into it honey.”

Okay mom, what do you do next? Your daughter is right – most of her friends are on Instagram and 13 is the age limit.

Last year we wrote the following: Is Instagram Safe for 10, 11 or 12 Year Olds? Our conclusion was that it isn’t. What about for 13-year olds?

If you are the mom in this case, you will probably ask a couple of friends, or maybe ask a sibling who has kids of a similar age what they think. You might take to Google and read about how there insta-locationare risks, but that you can do things to make sure your daughter stays safe.

Saying “no” at this point is pretty much impossible. You help her set up her account (Note: make sure she uses her real email address; if she doesn’t and forgets the password, she’ll never be able to get the account back or delete it). Make sure the account is set to private and turn off location settings (see right: Settings -> Instagram -> Location -> Never). You caution her against accepting friend requests from people she doesn’t know. You set up your own Instagram account (sigh) and friend her so you can see what she is posting.

Are you in the clear?

There is one situation that we don’t hear many people talk about, but it came up this week as we were doing some research for a middle school principal who had anonymous cyberbullying problem.

On Instagram, users can send Direct Messages to other users with whom they have no follower/following relationship. According to Instagram:

“Yes, you can send a message to anyone when you use Instagram Direct. If you send a message to someone who doesn’t follow you, it’ll appear as a request in their inbox. If someone allows your message request, your future messages will go directly to their inbox.”

What does this mean for you? Well, in the worst-case scenario, let’s say that a creep goes trolling through Instagram looking for unsuspecting young targets. The private account below belongs to a girl who looks to be 11 – 14 or thereabouts.

instagram-dms
Even though the account is private, the troll can see her profile picture, her Instagram handle and her real name if she lists it (she does in this case). If he decides to send her a direct message, it will go to her Instagram inbox giving your daughter to option to “Accept” or “Decline”. She won’t know what is in the message unless she opens it. She has no shot at knowing who the real sender is.

There are lots of ways that a 13-year old can encounter inappropriate content or unsafe situations on Instagram. Unless your 13-year old is mature enough to hit “Decline” – every time  – when that mystery message hits her inbox, she might still be too young to be using Instagram.

 

 

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Online Gaming and Predator Risk

A story this week about an accused child predator in New Jersey has a twist in it that should give pause to a lot of parents out there.

gameboy-advanceA Flemington New Jersey man who was arrested last year on child pornography charges was charged again, this time for trying to have an 11-year old girl send him nude photos. The catch? He used a Gameboy to find and contact the girl. According to NJ Acting Attorney General John Hoffman:

“This case is a cautionary tale for parents, who need to be aware that their children may encounter sexual predators online in places they would not expect. Pirretti allegedly used a children’s game and the chat feature offered by this gaming network to try to target this innocent young girl for sexual exploitation. Fortunately, her parents learned of his alleged predatory behavior and alerted law enforcement.”

A Gameboy is thought of by most as a harmless toy for children, but it isn’t. As a matter of fact, any device that has internet access can be used by predators to contact children.

It’s important for parents to start educating kids about the risks of online activity before ever granting internet access, even via a handheld gaming system. It’s equally important for parents to be vigilant about what kids are doing online and whom they’re communicating with.

We realize that it’s difficult to talk to young kids about the existence of predators and other online characters who are up to no good, but it’s essential. This of it this way: if your child isn’t mature enough to hear about the risks that exist in the online world, perhaps she’s not mature enough to have unsupervised internet access.

Better safe than sorry.

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter below.

 

Facebook Adds “Nearby Friends” Feature | Could Be Unsafe for Teens

facebook logo thumbFacebook announced this week that it will be rolling out its newest feature, “Nearby Friends”, in the coming weeks.

With Nearby Friends users who have it turned on will be notified periodically when their Facebook friends (who also have the feature turned on) are in the immediate area. It’s a feature that Facebook describes as something that help friends keep in touch or meet up, but it will not be without risk for young users (or perhaps even older users), in the event that you’re in the habit of accepting friends requests from just about anybody.

Facebook Nearby Friends
Source: Facebook

The feature is opt-in only, so by default it will be turned off until selected by a user. When turning it on, users can select which friends they want to be able to track their location, and can also allow some users to see your precise location on a map, even while you are moving.

Location-based social media is nothing new. Facebook check-ins have been around for a while, and other social apps like Instagram and Twitter can track location depending on a user’s settings.

After Nearby Friends rolls out, you can bet that Facebook’s teen population will be eager to try it out. Parents with teens who are Facebook users would be well served to have a conversation about keeping it turned off, and reiterating the importance of knowing who your “friends” are on social media.

As for me, there is no way I am ever turning this feature on.

 

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Child YouTube Videos – What’s the Risk?

My daughter wants to be on YouTube. Really, really wants to be on YouTube. Not watching videos, but starring in them.  The problem is that she’s 6 years old.

child youtube videoShe is a moderate YouTube user – mostly Rainbow Loom how-to videos and Katy Perry music – and we have her access pretty well locked down. She uses a family Google account, not her own, Safety Mode search is turned on (preventing her from finding age-inappropriate videos) and comments are hidden. We have had no problems with her YouTube browsing so far.

When she heard recently that one of my teen boys was thinking about making a YouTube video, the idea that it was possible really grabbed her, and she has asked me daily since then if she could make her own (with my help, of course). Her desire to be featured in her own video seems natural enough. It’s a medium she enjoys, she’s into singing, acting and dance, and not in the least bit shy.

So, we’ve ensured that her YouTube browsing is safe. What other factors should we consider when it comes to posting an online video of her?

Predator risk – Even if we do not disclose her full name or location (we won’t) there is a remote chance that a predator will find the video and work hard to try and contact her. Since she does not have her own YouTube account and video comments are hidden, the risk is remote.

Addiction – That is probably too strong a word, but if making videos becomes an all-consuming interest, that will not be healthy, or good for her school work or other activities.

Future embarrassment – Once you put something online, it can be there to stay. There’s a good chance that something she posts proudly at 6 will be something that embarrasses her when she is older.

Narcissism – If she is only posting a video to show off, or to boost her own ego, that is probably not healthy.

Gateway to other behaviors – Deep down, I don’t want her to see at this young age how easy it is to post a video. It could lead her to try posting pictures or video to other sites that I don’t know about or am not monitoring.

There are a couple of interesting positives in this, if we do it. First, if she is making YouTube videos, she is in a pretty good place – making/doing something is better than watching something. Second, computer skills are increasingly important in school and in the work place. The earlier children learn positive online skills, the better prepared they will be for the future.

What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

 

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