Written by Family Zone Team
Mum Judi Ketteler admitted she’d caved. Sustained pester-power from her 9-year-old son finally won the day, and she allowed him to get an Instagram account.
The first weekend, she wrote in the New York Times, he posted 20 times in 24 hours. “He put up a video of himself doing a front flip wearing only his boxer shorts, followed back every single user who followed him, and went ‘live’ in a friend’s basement without the parents knowing.”
Ketteler insisted she was happy about all of this - that her son’s blatant display of poor judgment opened the door to a fruitful conversation about rules and boundaries.
She maintained Instagram could be a valuable resource for her 9-year-old, who has ADHD, “to connect with other kids like him — essentially to find his people.” She added that she welcomed the opportunity Instagram provided for “a little window into who he is that I may not have had otherwise.”
Commenters disagreed - many vehemently - with her judgment.
“What is wrong with you?” fumed one. “You're the adult. Set a boundary. Be a parent. Stop caving to the false narrative that a 7 yr old [sic] not exposed to a digitized world sets them up for failure. It is nonsense.”
The majority of responses were critical, and many cited the legal age restriction of 13+ as their starting point.
The author takes for granted that the rules of Instagram can be ignored for her own children. Its terms of service stipulate usage at 13. The author doesn't even address this, because her core assumption is that rules don't apply to her own children when it comes to their desires.”
Other readers praised Ketteler for her honesty about the complex realities of parenting in a digital world. A study by knowthenet.org.uk found that about 59% of children have used a social network by the age of 10. Clearly, Ketteler’s 9-year-old is not unusual.
Many parents see Instagram as a harmless way for kids to share photos and connect with friends. They are shocked to learn how easy it is to access porn on the platform - and that Instagram is the number-one social medium for cyberbullying.
Psychologist Jordan Foster of ySafe points out that the 13+ age restriction has little to do with children’s developmental readiness for social media. It relates instead to US legislation that aims to protect children’s privacy.
A Family Zone cyber expert, Foster’s wide experience with young people and social media has convinced her that age alone is not a sufficient basis for answering the question “To Instagram, or not to Instagram?”
Instead, she advises parents to consider the following:
Is my child resilient?
“They're going to need it when exploring the world of Instagram, as they will likely stumble across the array of inappropriate content that is hosted on Instragram, including pornography and violence.”
Do they know how information is shared on the internet?
“Kids need to understand that when they post pictures to Instagram, they no longer have control of those pictures. This is the case even if their account is set to private. People can take screenshots or 'regram' pictures. So they should know to never post anything that they wouldn't want getting out to a bigger audience.”
Do they understand what to do if they encounter digital threats?
“If they're faced with a threatening situation, would they know what to do? If they are cyber bullied, or a stranger sends them a private message, do they know how to handle the situation? Kids need to know about blocking, reporting, privacy settings and catphishing. It’s like teaching them road rules before we let them on the road to drive.”
Are the communications lines open?
“Are they openly talking to you about their online experiences, or do they know that communication with you is going to be a prerequisite to them using Instagram? If open communication with a parent isn't happening, then access to Instagram isn't happening.”
Am I present and available?
“Before you allow your children to be exposed to all of the wonders and perils that Instagram offers, you need to identify your own capacity to be involved and to supervise. If you're time poor, or don't feel like you can commit to active supervision and communication, it's best that your child doesn't use Instagram. Your involvement will safeguard them more than any privacy setting will.”