What’s Up With Teens and Semi-Private Instagram Accounts?

I reached out to the parent (a client of ours) of a 15-year old girl a few months back and told him insta-logo-transparentthat he might want to have a chat with his daughter about her Instagram account. I told him that even though her account was set to private, her follower count was over 700 people and growing. My logic was that since no teen has 700 real friends, her account was hardly “private”.

The parent informed me that he and his wife were both following their daughter on Instagram and he wasn’t concerned with what she was doing. The conversation ended there.

Consider the three Instagram account below:



We selected these accounts semi-randomly by scanning the Ask.fm friends of a teen we know. The owners of these accounts have a few things in common. They’re all upper middle school girls, aged 13 or 14, from the same area (Northeast U.S.). They are all active on social media. They all posted their Instagram handle in their Ask.fm public profile. They appear to be active socially – these aren’t nerd girls.

The Instagram accounts themselves have a few things in common as well:

  • The accounts are all set to private
  • The accounts all follow a large number of accounts
  • The accounts all have a large number of followers
  • The accounts have posted precious few photos to their network

To put it not so delicately, if the parents of these girls faithfully follow them on Instagram, and think they know how they are using it, they’re wrong. Our guess is that while the girls probably take plenty of photos, they are only posting carefully curated photos to their network, and not very many of them. Here’s what they are doing on Instagram:

Friend collecting – If your son or daughter has more than 500 friends on Instagram, ask why. If she’s doing it for her ego – friend collecting – her time could probably be better spent doing something else, plus these accounts are semi-private at best. A large number of social media followers is hardly a worthy goal, and it takes time to scan and accept hundreds of friend requests.

Putting herself at risk – Any of her followers can send a direct, possibly explicit or cyberbullying message straight to her inbox. Actually, Instagram users can send direct messages to anyone, but if you get a direct message from someone you don’t “know”, it shows up as an alert and you can choose not to open it. Messages from friends don’t come with warnings.

Curating – If you’ve had an Instagram account for a couple of years, follow hundreds of people and have posted fewer than 20 photos, odds are you’re expending a lot of energy selecting only perfect pictures that cast you in the best light. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it could be ego-driven.

Private messaging – These teens’ primary use case for Instagram is probably sending private image-based messages to friends or groups of friends. There’s nothing wrong with this, but the parents might have no idea who is being messaged.

In summary, there are some large gaps between how parents think some social networks and apps are used, and how teens are really using them. Conversation is the key. Here is a good question to ask: “I see that you’ve only posted 14 images to Instagram. What do you actually use it for?”

Knowledge is power.



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