Are your young teens on social media platforms like Instagram?
If so, do you wonder how to help your teen use Instagram safely?
At what age is it even considered “safe” to let your child use Instagram?
These are all legitimate questions, and we’re here to help!
Table of Contents
- Teens on social media – what experts are saying
- Instagram impacts teens’ mental health
- 3 places teens find porn on Instagram
- 6 steps to set up Instagram safely for teens on social media
- 3 ways to help your teens on social media use Instagram safely
- Model choosing accountability as a life-long relationship habit
Teens on social media - what experts are saying
Like most things in life, teens using social media apps like Instagram includes positives and negatives. However, the safety of young teens on social media is finally getting some much-needed public scrutiny.
What the U.S. Surgeon General says about teens on social media
For example, the U.S. Surgeon General recently released a 2023 public safety statement about social media and teens:
“I, personally, based on the data I’ve seen, believe that 13 is too early … It’s a time where it’s really important for us to be thoughtful about what’s going into how they think about their own self-worth and their relationships and the skewed and often distorted environment of social media often does a disservice to many of those children.”
The Mayo Clinic’s concerns about teens on social media
Also the Mayo Clinic pulls no punches, stating: “Social media bombards teens with messages that may harm body image”.
The Washington Post report about teens on social media
What’s more? Facebook’s own data about Instagram and its effects on teens backs this up, according to The Washington Post’s report:
“Instagram is even worse than we thought for kids”.
Now that’s clear as a bell!
What Ever Accountable’s research uncovered about OnlyFans and teens on social media
Additionally, porn is also accessible on Instagram, including a lesser known gateway to porn on Instagram. Certain influencers use Instagram as a way to promote their OnlyFans sites.
Whether or not teens find porn through social media, it’s a risk you want to avoid! Exposure to porn is clearly harmful for children and teens.
That’s why this parent guide to Instagram has a two-fold purpose. First, we’re raising awareness of some specific dangers of Instagram.
Next, we’ll provide tips for you and your teen – how to use Instagram safely and responsibly.
Now let’s talk about important research on the potential harms of teens on social media.
Instagram impacts teens’ mental health
Instagram can have both positive and negative effects on the mental health of teens. On the positive side, it can help teens connect with peers and feel a sense of belonging. On the negative side, other studies show that Instagram may contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.
For example, a recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) study “highlighted how social media use can contribute to poor mental health – through validation-seeking practices, fear of judgement, body comparison, addiction, and cyberbullying.”
Cyberbullying also generally hides, often due direct messaging inside social media apps. It’s easy to miss these clues as parents, if we’re overwhelmed or distracted for a time.
Teens on social media are especially vulnerable, even to private messages from anonymous strangers. Sometimes the consequences are deadly, as Carson’s parents learned.
Sadly, it just takes a quick Google search to discover way too many stories of teen suicides due to bullying, including cyberbullying on social media.
Instagram and teen body image issues – the hidden dangers for 1 in 3 teen girls
Again, The Washington Post notes Facebook’s own data – “a study that found Instagram makes body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls”.
Parents need to talk with their teens about specific ways social media may damage teen girls’ body image and self-esteem. According to the Mayo Clinic, this includes self-esteem and the unrealistic standards promoted for teens on social media.
Instagram provides an endless stream of carefully curated images of “perfect” bodies and unrealistic beauty standards. It’s no wonder many teen girls struggle with a negative body image!
Filters on Instagram fuel these carefully curated images. The before and after beauty filter is one such example. Teen girls often feel pressured to present themselves as flawless and perfect on social media. This may directly contribute to unhealthy diet and exercise habits, and even body dysmorphia.
A recent Washington Post article also highlights this gender difference citing:
“Richard Weissbourd, psychologist and senior lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, ‘Boys are more likely to ‘mask depression,’ while girls may be more vulnerable to social media and ‘a culture obsessed with attractiveness and body image’. ”
Therefore, it’s vital to encourage all teens on social media to use apps like Instagram in a healthy and positive way.
Easy exposure to porn on Instagram
Parents, beware! Porn is accessible to teens on Instagram. In fact, the Children’s Commissioner in the UK released results of their porn impact on children survey. Instagram was highlighted as one platform where lots of teens are finding porn.
“Pornography is not confined to dedicated adult sites. We found that Twitter was the online platform where young people were most likely to have seen pornography. Fellow mainstream social networking platforms Instagram and Snapchat rank closely after dedicated pornography sites.” The Children’s Commissioner, UK
Talking about porn with your teens is vital, because it creates unhealthy and unrealistic expectations about relationships, sex, and body image. Some research indicates that teens using porn are more likely to suffer from depression. Porn hijacks and harms their developing brains!
3 places teens find porn on Instagram
To be sure, Instagram touts their strict community guidelines prohibiting sexually explicit content. Also, the platform states that it actively works to remove explicit content and suspend accounts that violate these guidelines.
However, Dr. Michael Salter, an associate professor of criminology at the University of New South Wales, argues that social media algorithms fuel the problem!
“Very often they are using algorithms to actively recommend this content, and we have had situations where social media company algorithms have been actively recommending sexualised content of children, sexual interest in children,” Salter says.
Here are 3 places that teens find porn on Instagram:
1. Hashtags: (beware of influencer accounts)
Pornographic or sexually suggestive content may be attached to popular or trending hashtags. These hashtags would include popular influencers who cross-post from TikTok to Instagram and YouTube. Teens who search for or click on these hashtags may come across inappropriate content.
2. Explore Page
Instagram’s algorithm curates a unique “Explore” page for each user, which suggests posts, accounts, and hashtags based on their activity on the platform. If a teen frequently interacts with sexually suggestive content, the algorithm may suggest similar content on their Explore page.
3. Direct Messages
Like every other social media platform, predatory users may send unsolicited pornographic images or links to teens through Instagram’s Direct Messages feature.
It’s important for parents to have conversations with their children about appropriate online behavior. Talk to them about the likely risks of encountering sexually explicit content on social media.
Parents can also set parental controls and monitoring tools on their children’s devices. Limiting exposure to inappropriate content is key. Granted, this step is much more effective IF you do this before you allow your child to have any social media accounts.
6 steps to set up Instagram safely for teens on social media
If you decide to let your younger teen have an Instagram account, Instagram offers a few different features that enable parents to check on their child’s account. Here’s how to set up parental controls on Instagram.
1. Create a Parent/Guardian Account.
Instagram has a Parent/Guardian feature that allows parents to link their account to their child’s account. This will give parents access to some of their child’s account activity, such as direct messages and notifications of inappropriate content. To create a Parent/Guardian account, follow these steps:
- Go to your profile and tap on the three horizontal lines in the top right corner.
- Tap on “Settings”.
- Scroll down to “Privacy” and tap on “Family”.
- Tap on “Join Instagram as a Parent” and follow the prompts to create your account.
2. Set Your Teen’s Account to Private.
Setting your teen’s account to private is another way to safeguard them on Instagram. It’s possible to get DM requests from strangers, but at least you must accept the request first.
- Got into “Settings”.
- Tap on “Privacy”.
- Toggle ON “Private Account” setting.
3. Restrict Certain Content.
Another feature called “Restrict” allows users to block or filter out comments from specific users. This can be useful for parents who want to prevent their child from interacting with potentially harmful or inappropriate content. To enable the “Restrict” feature, follow these steps:
- Go to your child’s profile and tap on the three horizontal dots in the top right corner.
- Tap on “Restrict”.
- Choose whether to restrict comments and/or direct messages from that user.
4. Utilize Settings on Instagram Like Manage Activity.
The Instagram feature called “Manage Activity” allows users to archive or delete their old posts. This can be useful for parents who want to check on their child’s account and remove any inappropriate content. To access the “Manage Activity” feature, follow these steps:
- Go to your child’s profile and tap on the three horizontal lines in the top right corner.
- Tap on “Settings”.
- Scroll down to “Account” and tap on “Manage Activity”.
- Choose whether to archive or delete your child’s posts.
5. Enable Two-Factor Authentication.
Two-factor authentication can help keep your child’s account more secure by requiring a verification code in addition to their password to log in. To enable two-factor authentication, follow these steps:
- Go to your child’s profile and tap on the three horizontal lines in the top right corner.
- Tap on “Settings”.
- Scroll down to “Security” and tap on “Two-Factor Authentication”.
- Choose whether to use a text message or an authentication app to receive verification codes.
6. Disable DMs from strangers on Instagram.
Since it’s a multi-step process to disable DMs from those who are not connected to your teen on Instagram, it’s a helpful roadblock. However, it’s pretty safe to assume that your tech-savvy teen will also figure out how to enable ALL DM’s. Check phone settings regularly.
- Go to Settings and tap on “Privacy”.
- Tap on “Messages” which puts you in “Message Controls”.
- Look under “Other People” > “Others on Instagram”.
- Tap on “Don’t receive requests”.
While these safety measures are helpful, they are not foolproof. Nothing can replace ongoing conversations with your child about internet safety and responsible social media use.
3 ways to help your teens on social media use Instagram safely
1. Create a “safe social pact” with your teen.
Like giving your tween or young teen a phone, the BEST time to have a conversation is prior to setting your child loose on Instagram. Write down and talk about social media guidelines for your family. Ask open-ended questions about what their friends like to create on Instagram, too.
2. Follow who they follow in Instagram
If you’ve set up a Parent/Guardian account, this should be pretty easy to accomplish. You may interact with and even DM your teen with positive posts.
Also, use open-ended questions when you see something concerning. For example ask, “What do you think about this?”
Having a Parent/Guardian account connected to your teens’ account will also allow you to block or remove questionable content or connections.
Talk about the realities of “thirst traps” on Instagram created by influencers. Then share research that reveals what OnlyFans content creators actually earn:
“Most content creators make less than $200 a month on OnlyFans. This isn’t even a livable wage, let alone the fortune that OnlyFans purports anyone can make on their site. Reports say that the top 1% of accounts make 33% of all the money, and the top 10% of accounts make 73% of all the money.”
–Heidi Olson, sexual assault nurse examiner, writing for Fight the New Drug
3. Follow their Instagram activity and check on time spent in app
Using our accountability app on all Android devices or iOS devices allows freedom to use social media, while helping teens use Instagram safely and appropriately. First, follow all of the Instagram safety tips above.
Then go into the Ever Accountable app settings.
- Tap “Configure apps”
- Toggle “on” for Instagram sharing.
Worried about your teens mental health, and too much screen time? You can also view how much time has been spent by your teens on social media by checking their weekly reports.
Model choosing accountability as a life-long relationship habit
To wrap it all up, honesty and transparency helps build healthy long-term relationships. When you’re in touch with your child’s Instagram activity through weekly accountability reports, this opens doors for needed conversations.
If your teen doesn’t use Instagram safely, our app will flag negative online behavior. You’ll be able to address problems before they grow. Help them avoid mistakes that could affect their future prospects like employment!
On the flip side, it’s fun sharing interests or laughs together on Instagram. Enjoy connecting with your teens on social media. Exploring and practicing accountability together is a small investment of time that pays big dividends!
Bergman, Matthew P. “A Parent’s Guide to Instagram.” Social Media Victims Law Center, https://socialmediavictims.org/resources-for-parents/guide-to-instagram/. Accessed 11 April 2023.
“Exploring adolescents’ perspectives on social media and mental health and well-being – A qualitative literature review.” PubMed, 7 June 2022, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35670473/. Accessed 11 April 2023.
“Home.” YouTube, https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/research-resources/2016/impact-of-pornography-on-children-and-young-people/. Accessed 11 April 2023.
“Instagram.” NCOSE, https://endsexualexploitation.org/instagram/. Accessed 11 April 2023.
“Promoting healthy body image in children, teens.” Mayo Clinic Health System, 9 August 2021, https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/promoting-healthy-body-image-in-children-teens. Accessed 11 April 2023.
St, Donna. “Teen girls ‘engulfed’ in violence and trauma, CDC finds.” The Washington Post, 13 February 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2023/02/13/teen-girls-violence-trauma-pandemic-cdc/. Accessed 11 April 2023.
“Teens, Social Media and Technology 2022.” Pew Research Center, 10 August 2022, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2022/08/10/teens-social-media-and-technology-2022/. Accessed 11 April 2023.