Instagram is one of the most popular social media platforms for teens. But between Reels, Stories, and direct messages, it can be difficult to keep track of the ins and outs of this platform. To help you sort it all out, we’ve created this handy guide for parents — plus everything you need to know about how to set up parental controls on Instagram.
Instagram is a platform for sharing photos and videos. Users can post content, follow other accounts, and message with users.
Besides their feed, which shows photos and videos posted by people they follow, there are several other ways users can interact with Instagram:
Reels: Reels are short videos, similar to the video format for TikTok, that play in a user’s feed.
Stories: Stories are short videos and photos which are separate from a person’s main feed. Unlike posts and Reels, Stories disappear after 24 hours.
Direct Messages (DMs): DMs are private messages that can be sent to one or more individuals. Users can send DMs whether or not they follow each other.
Vanish Mode: This feature allows users to send timed messages that can only be viewed once before they disappear.
Officially, users must be 13 to use Instagram. But the platform doesn’t have an age-verification process, so kids can easily get around this by fibbing their birthdate.
Young people face the following risks on Instagram:
Negative body image: The visual nature of Instagram means it’s easy for kids to become preoccupied with body image. Like other social networks, Instagram is a highlight reel. If the people your child follows only tend to post the most appealing parts of their lives and their bodies, it’s relatively easy for children to fall into a comparison trap and feel less satisfied with their bodies.
Mental health issues: Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem have been linked to visual-based social platforms such as Instagram.
Predators: Because it’s possible for users to message people they aren’t following, your child may be targeted by a predator. In the Privacy section of Settings, you can turn on “hide message requests.” This filters potentially offensive messages into a hidden folder. However, predators usually start with seemingly innocent interactions, so filters may not catch their attempts.
Exposure to mature/harmful content: It’s possible your child will see violent or sexual content on Instagram. While Instagram tries to limit posts that promote suicide, self-harm, and eating disorders, users often employ code words to circumvent filters.
(Parents, you can reset your child’s algorithm to limit their exposure to negative content.)
Through the Family Center, parents can get updates on who their child follows and who follows them. Parents can also receive notifications if their child reports a user and set time limits on app use. In addition, they can see their child’s privacy, messaging, and sensitive content settings, and be alerted if their kid changes these settings.
To use Family Center, you’ll need an Instagram account. From the Instagram app, tap your profile picture, then tap Settings and privacy from the menu in the top right. Go to “For families,” then set up “Supervision” and follow the prompts.
For detailed instructions on how to set up parental controls on instagram, see Instagram’s guide to parental supervision.
In addition to the parental controls above, here are steps you can take to keep your child safe on Instagram:
Here are the main privacy settings to look at:
Following your child and viewing their posts is a great way to keep tabs on their activity.
Open communication is vital for keeping your child safe online. Regularly sit with your kid and view their feed and messages together. This is a great time to discuss how social media algorithms work and how your child can “train” their algorithm to show them the content they actually want to see.
A service like BrightCanary uses AI technology to scan your child’s social media activity and alert you to anything concerning. This allows you to keep tabs on your child while allowing them a level of autonomy.
To empower your child to set their own time limits, ask them to utilize the Your Activity feature. If they need additional guardrails, you can set screen time limits through Family Center.
Instagram has built-in controls to filter out comments intended to bully or harass, but users can also set filters for terms that may not break Instagram’s rules.
Comments can be deleted, reported, or turned off altogether on posts. Specific users can also be blocked. Whether or not your child is dealing with cyberbullying, it's a good idea to run through these settings so they're prepared if they ever encounter online harassment.
Instagram is a popular app that brings with it some risks for kids. Fortunately, there are steps parents can take to keep their child safe on the app.