Instagram can be dangerous territory for vulnerable teen girls. But you can ensure a healthier experience with these expert tips.
Thanks to a major investigation released this week, we know now that Instagram has known for years about the risk the platform poses for teen girls.
How? Because its own research team had uncovered the truth but failed to make its findings public.
The photo-sharing megaplatform knew it was helping to create body image issues for one in three of its young female users - because its own researchers had studied young users.
They also found that among teenagers who experienced thoughts of self-harm, 13 percent of British users and 6 percent of American users “traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram.”
If you’re the parent of a teenage girl, these findings - horrifying though they are - probably come as no surprise. But you’re probably also aware of how embedded in teen culture the platform has become. Forbidding your daughter access is simply not an option.
13 percent of British users and 6 percent of American users “traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram.”
So what’s a digital parent to do? What steps can you take to ensure a healthier experience, maximising the fun and connection Instagram can offer, while minimising the potential dangers?
Here’s what the experts recommend:
Start with baby steps
Smartphone use doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing experience. Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping kids thrive (and survive) in their digital world, recommends giving your child access to a shared family device, and allowing them to text with a couple of friends or relatives as a first step.
Before allowing any access to social media, consider their maturity level and impulsivity (rather than relying on chronological age to guide your decision). Permit one app to be added as a test case, rather than allowing them to dive in at the deep end.
And an avalanche of research has now made another rule abundantly clear: If your daughter has body image issues, steer her away from Instagram - or at least put some serious boundaries around her access.
Set sensible boundaries
If you’ve decided the time is right for your child to have her own device, fine. But don’t make the mistake of thinking - or allowing her to think! - that device ownership implies 24/7 access.
Explain that parental control tools are part of the package of phone ownership, and decide together how much time, and at what times of day, she will be allowed social media access.
Make it clear right from the get-go that bedrooms are off-limits for tech use at bedtime. And that goes for laptops too (Instagram has a browser version too, don’t forget). If your teen says she needs her phone to wake her up in the morning, buy her an alarm clock.
Explain that parental control tools are part of the package of phone ownership, and decide together how much time, and at what times of day, she will be allowed social media access. (A sophisticated yet flexible app like Family Zone makes setting age-appropriate limits simple.)
Open up a dialogue
Research shows that fewer than half of parents talk to their kids about social media. That’s no way to keep their online activity healthy and grounded.
Do you know what influencers they’re following (particularly in the dieting and exercise space)? Do they understand the way algorithms influence the social media content they consume and even their browsing results?
Help to steer your daughter in the direction of genuine role models, based on her own talents or passions, suggests Laura Tierney of The Social Institute.
There are plenty of genuine role models out there for teen girls. Help your daughter to find them.
But remember that the real secret to communicating with your tween or teen daughter is listening. “As a parent, your job is to listen and ask open-ended questions,” she advises.
If you’re not sure where to begin, try asking your child about her top five accounts and bottom five accounts - and why. Then, share your own as well.
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