Last week I shared a post with some of the steps you can take to make the internet and social media safe(r) for your teens.
Then I promised to come back to talk about how our boys are using Instagram. I’ve decided to include a mention of YouTube in this as well, though I won’t go in-depth on YouTube today.
Both YouTube and Instagram are apps that can be accessed by a computer or any device with internet access.
And this is where things can get tricky. Last week I urged parents to get filters on all of their devices. And as important as that is, it is important to note that…
Filters do not block what goes on inside an app. You can block apps using your filter, and some apps do have parental controls or optional settings inside of them, but by allowing an app you are definitely opening up to more overall risk.
At this point, YouTube and Instagram are the only apps my boys use. (They think Facebook is “old school” (haha) and I don’t like the disappearing content on Snapchat, so that was a quick no). With just two social media apps to keep track of, it’s pretty reasonable for us as parents.
We actually love YouTube, for the most part. My oldest son loves to geek out on YouTube math videos. Two of my boys follow music tutorials (guitar and piano) on YouTube. All of the guys (Dave included) watch surf videos allofthetime on YouTube. Then there is Dear Kitty and Bad Lip Reading for our juvenile entertainment. (linked to those in this recent post.) I’m sure you could name all sorts of great things your family has discovered on YouTube, from learning how to fix things to helpful school tutorials, crafts, and more.
Instagram is my personal favorite. It’s what I like to use for my blogging and social connections. Instagram has played a key role in our 12 year-old’s surf sponsorship and marketing (Though my husband runs his Instagram account.) My older boys also get a lot of photography inspiration from the adventure and surf photographers they follow. It has been good for them to showcase their budding photography skills as well. Also, it’s kind of their main social outlet. (remember, they’re homeschooled. 😉 )
So I hate to throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water.
But it’s a tough one, that’s for sure.
We are navigating these waters the best we can. We know we can’t raise our kids in a bubble (though sometimes I want to!) and we really want to prepare them for the big world which they’ll be facing more independently in just a few short years. But of course we also want to keep them safe. So here’s what we are doing —
As far as YouTube goes, we allow the boys to use it on our family computer, which is in full view. We have talked to our boys about what is and isn’t appropriate, and they are very aware. Then we actually trust them to make good choices. And so far, they have proven trustworthy. If anything ever comes up that they feel is inappropriate, they are asked to tell us immediately. They are not to be on YouTube when we aren’t around, and so far our boys have proven to be very careful and wise. It’s not a perfect system, but so far it seems to be working well.
All about Instagram:
You may have seen a post going around from the site “Mother’s Niche” titled “What I wish every parent knew about Instagram.” I loved the post, and I shared it on my Facebook page as well as with all of my friends. It mentions a few things that are good to keep in mind, like how Instagram can be used for direct messages (basically another form of texting-including group style) and how Instagram can be used for bullying and other abuse. (bummer.) These are all things to be tuned into as parents for sure.
However, my greatest concern, and one of the main points of that article, was the potential for kids to stumble on inappropriate or pornographic material by clicking on the little “search” (magnifying glass) icon in the bottom left side of the Instagram home screen. This icon, also called, “explore”, pulls up a search bar where you can search for people, hashtags, or locations. But besides the search bar, it also pulls up a bunch of photos for you to “explore.” I’m not sure what algorithm they use, but these are most likely photos people you follow have liked, or whatever Instagram thinks you might like to click on.
Now for someone like me who follows mostly a bunch of other moms, my “explore” page is pretty tame. It is likely to showcase photos of cute little kids, yummy food, and pretty scenery.
But, when a teenage boy (who follows other teenage boys and pro surfers) clicks on the “explore” icon, he may see a whole different pallet of photos. And yes, you can imagine all that might pop up.
The frightening thing about the explore page is that one curious click on a photo will lead you to an entire feed by the same person. And often those feeds have links to click on, invitations, and on and on. It can be a very quick, very slick, rabbit hole.
Instagram on computers verses phones: Using Instagram on a computer is different from using it on a phone/device. On a computer you can see your entire feed, all comments, likes and etc. but there is no “explore” option. This removes the concern that random photos will pop up, uninvited. Now there is still a “search bar” in which you can search for people or hashtags, which will offer you links to click on, so it’s not 100% safe, but it’s a whole lot better than the “explore” icon found on the cell phone version.
The downside of using Instagram on a computer is that you cannot post photos from computers. You can only post photos from phones (iPods, or other devices.)
How our teens use Instagram: Our boys do not use Instagram on their phones or devices. We have deleted the Instagram App on all of them. They still have an account, but they can only use it on the home computer. Then, when they want to post a photo, they ask Dave or I to borrow our phone and they post their photos that way. It’s a bit inconvenient, but not that big of a deal. They totally understand our concern and have had no problem agreeing to this system.
I have actually offered my 16 year-old the chance to keep Instagram on his phone (because he has both proven extremely trustworthy but also because I want him to start making his own judgment calls at this age,) and he was happy to leave it off his phone. (And nothing makes me happier than seeing my teenagers setting their own boundaries and choosing accountability. :))
It’s still not perfect, but it seems to be working for us.
(I would love to petition Instagram to make it an option to remove the explore page from Instagram, and to have a staff more on top of blocking inappropriate materials, but for now we’re doing what we can.)
As always, my best recommendation is for you to have ongoing conversations with your kids. Talk about the role of social media in their lives, and help sort through things. (I cannot imagine how I would have handled social media as a kid…I’m guessing not very well!) Talk to your kids about using anything they are on in positive ways. If you have any trust issues with your kids, or feel that social media is hurting them more than helping them, then your best move might be to take a break from it for a while. I actually think breaks are good for everyone (including us moms!)
If you have further suggestions or comments, feel free to leave them below. Please let your friends know about this post if you think they would find it helpful!
PS The introduction to a whole series about parenting teen/pre-teen boys: here! 🙂