10 Ways to Keep your Kids Safe on Instagram

My middle schooler recently earned Instagram. She had been asking for several years, but I kept saying “no.” A situation came up at school, and she did not cave to peer pressure. It was the perfect reason to reward and give her more freedom.

The time had come.

But, it still came with rules.

I like the word “cyberparenting.” Here’s how I define it — a new branch of parenting that wasn’t required of our parents. We’re the first generation of parents who have kids in elementary schools with smartphones. One click to access anything in the world. It’s important to get it right.

For us, we refuse to say “no” to all technology. It’s here. It’s required for homework. It can be used for good. But, it’s SO important to be diligent. I’ve learned to walk hand-in-hand with my children as they learn to navigate through this digital world.

Not gonna lie, it’s a lot of work. So, parents, we need to come together, learn from each other and share information.

These are our family rules. It works for us. Every parent gets to make decisions for his/her own family regarding social media. Each child is different. I respect every parent’s decision, but I’d also like to create more discussion about how to cyberparent.

So, here’s how we implemented Instagram:

1. Learn it first. I was on Instagram six months before I let my daughter have her own account. I had friends (who have older daughters) who walked me through it and answered my questions.
Alert: You need a mom friend who has kids older than your children. They’ll give you a heads-up of what’s coming your way. These dear friends of mine (Merideth and Holly) warned me about Instagram use among middle school kids.

2. Make the account private. By having a private account, strangers can only see the profile pic and bio. Your followers have to request to follow you. In the app, go to your profile page. Click the settings icon in the upper right corner, scroll down to “private account” and turn it on.
Alert: Even as a private account, everyone can see your pic and bio. I don’t allow my daughter to use her last name, the full name of her school (only an abbreviation), etc.

3. Follow your child. You already have an account (per Step 1) so follow your child.
Alert: You don’t have access to their direct messages and search history as a follower. This leads to Step 4. Be aware, they will communicate through the direct messaging feature.

4. Know your child’s password and check his/her phone. We have a rule that my daughter’s cell phone gets checked in at the end of the day (we don’t allow any screens in bedrooms, bathrooms or behind closed doors). So, her phone goes to our mudroom every night for charging. I often check her timeline, search history and direct messages.
Alert: The search history can be cleared and the direct messages can be deleted. Make sure you trust your child! Also, when you search within Instagram, the parental controls of the phone settings do not work because you’re inside an app. Porn will not be blocked, but should be reported as it is not allowed (see Step 10 for a porn-proof resource).

5. Turn “Location Services” off. Close the app. Go to your phone’s settings. Per Instagram’s help center, you turn it off here: Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Instagram. You can set to “Never” or “While Using the App.” I recommend “Never.”  If you do not turn off “location services” for Instagram, the picture could give anyone who follows your child an exact address of his/her location.
Alert: It only shows up here if you’ve added a location within the Instagram app before. If it’s not there, try adding a location in Instagram on a picture (you don’t have to actually post), then go back to Settings > Privacy > Location Services > Instagram to turn it off.

6. Only allow followers your child knows in real life. This is a biggie for us. If my daughter can’t tell me who it is and how she knows them, they can’t follow her. Non-negotiable.

Also, most tweens think more followers = popularity. We talk a lot about our purpose on Instagram. We want to share pictures with a few of our friends. Jesus had 12 disciples. We don’t need thousands of strangers knowing our business. I tell my child, “Be selective in who you let into your world.”

7. Don’t allow your child to follow older kids you don’t know. Our rule is my daughter can follow people at school who are her grade and one grade above (again, who she knows in real life). Other than that, they must be a family friend or high school mentor at church. Personal preference.

8. Approve who your child follows. She only follows kids she knows in real life (see Step 7), and I also encourage her to follow pastors, motivational speakers, etc. who I follow and trust. The goal here – to fill her Insta-feed with positive things. I love when my daughter texts me Scripture she saw on Insta! LOVE.

9. Teach that Instagram is real life. I always tell my child, “If you won’t say it to her face, do not type it as a comment.”

Report bullying and inappropriate pictures. Do not talk to strangers. Do not share personal information, including your cell number. We also have family rules (for any screen) – no pictures in bathing suits or less, no pictures with your tongue sticking out, etc. These are important to us, customize them for your own preferences.

10. Teach integrity. I can put rules in place, set all the parental controls, but if my kids want to see bad things, they’ll find it in this digital world. My main goal of cyberparenting – teach them moral values, integrity and to guard themselves. I tell my kids, “You (and only you) are responsible for what enters your brain. Protect it. Bad images are hard to get out of your head.”

For us, the Bible is our moral compass. It determines right and wrong.

“I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart. I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; It shall not fasten its grip on me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil.” Psalm 101:2-4 (NASB)

I also highly recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures to porn-proof your kids (for ages 6+). Excellent resource!

What other rules do you use to keep your kids safe on Instagram?

Alert: In the app store, Instagram is rated for 12+. If you google the terms of service for Instagram, it clearly states you must be 13. When opening a new account, though, a birthdate is not required. You are only required to check the box agreeing to all terms.



What Parents Need to Know about Porn

I’m standing in the grocery store checkout line, looking at magazines covered with picture-perfect women.

I need to exercise more. Do not pick-up that candy bar. NO!! I’m such a hypocrite. I need to practice what I preach to my daughter — these photos are altered and aren’t real-life. Get a grip.

As the superficial, yet real struggle raced through my mind, I heard my phone.

I reached in my purse and was shocked to see the text I received:

“For live nudity available right now, click here.”

I’ve had my same mobile number for over 10 years and have never received an inappropriate text, until a couple of weeks ago. My mind immediately raced to the last known place where I provided my mobile number. Maybe a rewards program? A retailer’s coupon feed?

I was worried my daughter had received the text on her phone at school. So, later that day, I posted to social media to see if anyone else had received a similar text.

The response shocked me. Many people (including kids) who were AT&T customers had received the same live nudity text within a 48-hour period.

I contacted AT&T. They said spam is a multi-carrier problem and provided me information on how to block subsequent texts and open an investigation.

Then, I was contacted by a local news reporter. You can see the story here:

Mom warns of X-rated texts being sent to cell phones

A week after the story aired, I was notified by others (who had different carriers) of similar pornographic texts. So, it’s definitely not isolated to AT&T.

Regardless of the specific carrier, I think this presents a great opportunity to talk with parents, school officials and kids about how to handle inappropriate pictures and messages on any electronic device. We can join together, support each other and encourage open communication about pornography in general.

Here’s what parents need to know about porn: It’s addictive. It leads to early sexual activity. It is degrading. It’s the new drug we’re fighting. It is a money-making industry which depends on getting our kids addicted early. Many children, even as young as kindergarten, are being exposed to pornography due to the access to smartphones and tablets. It’s not just for boys. Girls are seeing it as a representation on how their bodies should look, so it becomes a body-image issue.

Shortly after the news story aired, I was contacted by Claudine Gallacher, Deputy Director of Porn Proof Kids. She saw the story and wanted to talk more about the actual texts. She was the writing coach and researcher for a book called Good Pictures, Bad Pictures (by Kristen A. Jenson and Gail A. Poyner) which uses a scientific approach to teaching children about pornography. One thing she taught me, “We need kids to identify what pornography is and learn to name it. By thinking (or saying out loud) the words ‘that’s pornography’ when we see a pornographic image, we move those pictures from the feeling part of the brain to the thinking part of the brain.” I LOVE that, and I highly recommend their book.

Texts are extremely dangerous because there is no way to block that first initial text. They are not like Internet pop-ups or pornographic emails which can be blocked through parental controls — we’ve dealt with this type of porn forever. Pornographic texts are new, they come directly to your phone number and there is no parental control or other way to block that first initial text. Kids can see it. Only subsequent texts from that number can be blocked, after the original one has already been seen. This is what I tell my children to do if they receive a pornographic text (and what I teach in MomTalk*):

1- Turn off your phone immediately.

2- Do not ever show another child. (Most school districts have major consequences if they do.)

3- Report the text to me immediately so I can block future texts and report to our carrier.

I don’t think the solution is to shelter our kids and say no to all technology. I think we can slowly expose our kids to technology and social media, then walk hand-in-hand and learn together, continually talking.

I also used these texts as an opportunity to discuss the issue with my school principal and superintendent. I received quick, informative responses; our district has actually been working on training for staff and students. Here were my questions (and feel free to use with your own school districts):

1- Do we have a district policy to govern pornographic pictures being shown on school property?

2- How do we communicate that policy to parents and kids? (Most parents I’ve talked to do not know they’re supposed to report any pornographic issues to school officials.)

3- What are the consequences for kids if they show pornographic pictures on school property? And, is that clearly communicated to parents and kids in our schools?

And, on an even broader scope:

How is the school district ensuring that classrooms are technologically safe for children? How are teachers trained to handle surprises when internet filters fail?

Do we understand the personal responsibility kids have for their own electronic devices? They are held responsible for the things they show to other kids.

We can take these bad texts, turn them around and use them for good. Unite parents and school officials so we can teach our kids valuable life lessons. I believe this is a teachable moment for all of us.