How Strangers Might Talk to Your Kid on Instagram

Teen girl looking at phone on couch

Social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, which allow users to interact, are prime arenas for predators and scammers to solicit kids. Some Instagram messages from strangers are just bots or spam, but others are more concerning. In fact, 20% of children report they’ve been contacted by an online predator in the last year. And between 2017 and 2021, the number of young people scammed online increased by a shocking 1,000%. Given the risks, parents should educate themselves about how strangers can contact their children on Instagram and how to protect them. 

Ways strangers can contact your child on Instagram

There are a number of different methods strangers might use to connect with your child on Instagram, including some surprising ones. 

Comments on posts 

One way that strangers might interact with your kid on Instagram is by commenting on posts. Of course, if your child has their account set to private, only people who follow them can see and comment on their posts. But don’t forget about the comments section on other people’s posts. For example, if your child comments on a post and a stranger replies to their comment, your child will get a notification. 

Direct Messages (DMs) 

While sliding into DMs might be fine for adults looking for romantic connection, the private nature of this type of communication is a concern when it comes to kids. Meta has recently introduced features designed to crack down on unwanted Instagram messages from strangers by siloing them in a separate Requests folder. But accessing these messages are still just a few taps away.

Recently, Meta announced a new update that will restrict strangers from sending unsolicited messages to teens who don’t follow them. This update is still rolling out, though, and it may not reach your child’s account for several weeks.

Vanish mode 

If a stranger wants to shield themselves further from scrutiny when messaging your child on Instagram, they might use vanish mode. Direct messages sent this way disappear when one person either leaves the chat or turns off vanish mode. Messages sent in vanish mode can’t be copied, saved, or forwarded. 

Instagram Live 

Instagram Lives are streaming videos that users record and share in real time. During the livestream, users can interact with the video creator and each other, meaning strangers can easily use this venue to communicate with your child. 

Group chats

Group chats are a major player in the social landscape of today’s teens and tweens. Instagram users can create group messages and invite people who have public and private accounts. While they can be a great way for kids to connect with friends, they also open them up to interactions with strangers if they’re added to a chat that includes people they don’t know. 

Fake profiles

Picture this: Your child gets a follow or DM request. The name and the picture on the account look like a classmate or acquaintance, so they accept. It’s only after messaging with the person for a bit that your kid realizes something is fishy. Creating fake profiles that attempt to impersonate another person is one way a cunning stranger might try to connect with your child on Instagram. 

How to keep your child safe from strangers on Instagram

The statistics may be shocking, but there are plenty of things parents can do to get ahead of the danger. Here are steps you can take today to protect your child from strangers on Instagram:

Private account

Setting your child’s Instagram account to private is one of the best things you can do to protect them on the platform. If you’re wondering how to stop messages from strangers on Instagram, here’s how to do it:

  • Sit down with your child and explain why it’s important that they have a private account.
  • Open the Instagram app and go to their profile. Tap the horizontal lines in the upper-right corner, then tap Settings and privacy.
  • Scroll to Account privacy, then toggle Private account.
  • Go back to the Settings screen and scroll until you see a section titled “How others can interact with you.” Adjust the settings accordingly, like preventing strangers from tagging your child’s account.

Talk to your child about the risks of strangers online

Education is a key component to keeping kids safe online. Explain to your child the dangers of online predators and scammers and help them learn how to spot red flags. 

Use a monitoring service 

A social media monitoring service like BrightCanary is an excellent way to protect your child from strangers on Instagram. BrightCanary uses advanced technology to monitor your child’s Instagram feed as well as their comments, direct messages, and posts. When a problem is detected, you receive an alert so you can step in. 

Block and report unwanted interactions

If your child is contacted by a stranger, help them to block the person and report the unwanted interaction. Even messages sent in vanish mode can be reported. 

In short 

If your child has an Instagram account, it’s an unfortunate truth that they may receive Instagram messages from strangers. When kids use any social media platform without privacy protections in place, they risk being contacted by strangers, opening themselves up to the dangers of online predators and scammers. But parents can take proactive steps to protect their children from strangers on Instagram — and continue regularly talking about online safety.

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