Teens and Instagram (and Youtube): Tips for Navigating Wisely
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! 🙂
Monica this was SO very helpful the way you laid everything out in such detail. My heart is hurting right now as my 15 year old son’s friends all have Snapchat and my husband and I will not allow it. He’s confused and bummed and I’m emotional that this is the world in which we leave. I do have a quick question for you! What is Covenant Eyes protecting if it doesn’t work inside the app? Just the internet? Thank you in advance!
hi Molly! thank you so much. And I totally understand your situation, so hard. :(. Covenant eyes has a browser you can use to be on the internet (so you would delete Safari or other browsers from your devices.) Also, CE does send us a series of screenshots of each of our boys’ devices weekly. I’m thinking those are taken randomly and it will show whatever is on the screen regardless of browser. Not sure if that makes sense, but I do like Covenant Eyes, I just realize you cannot assume kids are safe with that alone.
Lots of good info here for parents such as myself with two boys 9 and 11. They are all over Instagram and You Tube so I want to make sure what they’re watching is appropriate. My boys and I will be touring the North Shore of Oahu for Spring Break the last week of March. I appreciate any tips on kid friendly surf breaks for young groms (like Chun’s Reef?). Thanks!
I recently have a problem with both of this apps with my 12 year old, the ways he’s using them is not good or even the pictures he post or the videos he watch so I erased the app and close his account…after a month we found the app again and his account open, I can’t keep him away from this forever but he chooses to get them even when I say no….he’s not honest.
I need help because I don’t know how to handle all this anymore.
Oh I’m so sorry Larissa. Sounds like you do have a trust issue. Does he really need his phone/device? I would honestly take it away. Doesn’t sound like he is worthy of such a big responsibility at this time. I’m so sorry , it’s tough one but you are the parent and making hard choices now can pay off for everyone later! All the best to you. God bless-
This is such great advice. My three boys are just on the cusp of wanting access to these things and it is so good to get a handle on things before they dive in.
On a side note…do your boys have any guitar tutorials that they love? Mine wants to start with Lincoln Brewster but we may need to work up to that haha!
Maybe we should petition Instagram to remove the explore button or at least add an option to turn it off. I think that some of these social media outlets should be more responsible and allow for parental controls – because why not? Why not design an option for parents to set the account up for their kids and then have some control? Like having to approve their friends or the ability to turn off or block certain features. You have quite a following Monica… Maybe together we could enact some change. If anyone could do it I know you could! You’re one of MY heroes 🙂
I think that is a great idea Becka! I agree– why not? It couldn’t be that hard with all of the features available on these apps! I wish I had more capacity (and energy, haha) to be the one to rally, but I’ll certainly pray about it and do a little looking around to see if anyone is moving that direction that I could back…Thanks for the comment! aloha-
This was great Monica! Thank you and look forward to future “teenage boy” posts.
Talk. Trust your son. we raised him and believe he is ours.
I’m surprised you didn’t mention you tube kids! It’s all we have on our devices at home (old phones, ipad) that our kids play on. It’s designed for kids so that bad things don’t come up! Even my husband and I only have you tube kids on our phones and have never had a problem with it blocking the content that we search. It just leaves out the potential of anything worse and I love it!
Thank you Shellie–I honestly have never heard of YouTube kids. I’ll be checking into that now! 🙂 So glad you commented. Aloha-
I really appreciate all of your ideas for helping teens navigate Instagram and YouTube safely.
My biggest issue with Instagram is that people use harmless hashtags to promote pornography. For example- I was searching hashtags for Disney World to show my 3 year old some of the things that you can do/see there. Luckily I scrolled through before I showed him anything, it was riddled with pornographic images and snapchat invitations. I think your suggestion of a staff to quickly block these sorts of images is amazing! It should not be so easy for children to stumble upon something so inappropriate.
I agree, good point! And isn’t that just sick that people would use a Disneyland hashtag to do that kind of thing? SO clearly intentional! Yuck.
Thank you for commenting, Lora! 🙂 Aloha-
thank you so much for writing on this topic. I have often thought there needs to be more encouragement out there for parents on the topic of social media. I really appreciate the way you take a balanced approach. Your blog has been an answer to prayer (I’m mom to 4 boys and 1 girl). Thanks Monica!
Thank you Briana! That is so encouraging! ALoha-
Be aware porn pushers are also tagging instagram users to their accounts. This happened to me a few days ago. I opened my notifications to find an instagram user, that I have no association with, tagged me on a post promoting a link to porn. So it is beyond stumbling across it. They are seeking out anyone they can via social media/internet to addict into their world. Thank you for addressing this issue in your blog!
Amy, Oh man! I hadn’t heard of that one yet. So slimy! Really makes me sick. These are the things that just need to be open conversation in our family I suppose. But glad you gave me head’s up on that one. Much Aloha-
Amy, thanks for sharing that. I have also found porn pushers sending follow requests to my son. He follows a lot of public sports pages. Anyone can go down the list of followers of ESPN (for example) and send follow requests. Of course sports pages have a great list of males to target. We need to tell our kids to instantly delete requests from people they don’t know. One click to open their page to see who they are can open images that can’t be erased from their mind.
Monica, thanks for sharing this (and all that you do)! I just checked out the explore page and am just sick about this right now. I may follow your advice of deleting the app from his phone. It’s so upsetting that instagram isn’t more responsible. This is just so out of control.
Good morning Monica, I don’t read your blog every day but I enjoy it when I have time to sit and read 🙂 I am a grandma to 15 awesome grandchildren. I worry about social media. About a month ago now. My son was getting ready to leave for Bahran and my 15 year old granddaughter happen to get on Instagram and as soon as she opened it there were pictures of naked women, under her uncles name. She very quickly called for her mom who than get ahold of my son. He was mortified, he had been hacked and they changed his password and everything. My daughter had to walk him through trying to reset it all and he had to go delete one by one. He got off of Instagram. I tell you this because no matter how protective we are the world is corrupt. Your boys are young, and I would hate to have this happen to them. I am thankful my granddaughter saw it first and told her mom right away. Before all was said and done there had been. 25 pictures posted. And several more calls to my son. He is a Godly man and so this was upsetting to him. Hackers are evil and don’t care who they attack so just be aware ok . I want to protect these young eyes as well :)) have a great day.
Thank you Jeanne! I appreciate you stopping in anytime! Love grandparents’ perspectives..:) That sounds like an awful scenaio! wow…So yucky, but so glad it was handled well.
Your are right, the world is corrupt. I think that we need to teach our kids the skills to deal with things wherever they pop up, because they will–and often in the most unexpected places. When kids have the skills and the wisdom to go to an adult with things, they are being prepared for real life. Appreciate all of your thoughts! aloha-
Mahalo so much for this post and the prior one on the subject. I have taken the no social media for now stance. Too many friends (reg. school) have had significant issues that can’t be “undone” with kids as young as 9 and kids as old as 17. Just today, I learned something disturbing that I can’t quite share here (you know what it’s like being on island). Anyway, I will take all of what you say and keep it in mind as mine get a little older. I LOVE homeschooling for so many reasons, but, control of social media is a pretty big one. Your post made me realize a need for a phone filter (before anything inadvertently happens).
I have been following you here for quite sometime and never quite had time to leave a reply. I appreciate your posts so much. I am grateful that you take the time out of a very busy life to share your life online. I barely have time to reply to texts and I only homeschool two people (dd and ds). This is not quite “on topic” but, I feel relevant: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201508/screentime-is-making-kids-moody-crazy-and-lazy
Thank you Leslie! I think it is great you are making wise choices for all of the right reasons! 🙂 love your heart for your kids. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Thanks for the encouragement and taking the time to comment. It means a lot to me! I’ll check out your linked post as well…Much Aloha and keep up the great work!
We just got Circle & love it! It’s a great filter & you can set different bedtimes for devices. We also blocked YouTube with it because even though my kids were searching appropriate things, the suggestions of “you might also like this” weren’t always appropriate & we just thought it was too easy to see something you can’t unsee!
Thank you for the comment, Jeni! So glad to hear about another good filter! 🙂 I agree with the concerns about YouTube–way to make the call. I think if my boys were a little younger at this point I’d do the same. Still always better safe than sorry.
Keep up the intentional parenting! aloha-