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.