Lesson Learned: Kids and Instagram



Alpha Mom Lesson LearnedLast week, when my 11-year-old son S. asked if he could sign up for an Instagram account, I was a bit surprised. He’s been a big fan of video games for years, but this was the first time he seemed interested in social media. I figured he wanted to try out the popular photo sharing service because he’d seen me use it for the past two years. But that wasn’t the case at all.

“All of my friends are on it,” he said. “So I want to be on it, too.” I guess I should have known. He’s reached the age where that’s the number one reason for doing anything.

But after a day or so of thinking about it, my husband and I decided it was okay. Compared to Facebook or Twitter, Instagram seems fairly harmless. From my experience, it’s usually just pictures of people’s fingernails, food, cats or kids and there isn’t much commenting. And although my friend Maria has had some minor issues with her middle-schooler using Instagram (which was detailed in this Wall Street Journal article by my Twitter pal Katie Rosman), I figured we were at least a year away from any bad tween behavior. I figured wrong, but that I’ll get to in a minute.

S. opened his Instagram account on his iTouch, using his Hotmail address that we let him have to email with his grandfather, and he immediately started “following” people. Mostly his classmates, but also a lot of professional athletes. I imagine it’s pretty thrilling for a kid to suddenly feel like he’s interacting with his sports heroes. Then he posted a couple of pictures of our cats and eagerly waited for people to “Like” them. It was kind of cute.

However. However, I then took a good look at the accounts of the classmates he was following and it was a total eye-opener. S.’s bio just said he was in the 5th grade at xx xx Elementary, which I made him immediately erase because it was too personal, but his classmates’ bios actually detailed their dating statuses. Kids who I remember peeing their pants in Kindergarten now describe themselves online as “Taken!!” or “Single and Wants to Mingel!” (sic) and most of their photos are selfies taken in their bedrooms or dance poses where they have one leg lifted to their heads (seriously, enough with that pose). It was shocking because I had absolutely no idea that 10 and 11 year-old kids were already “dating.”

I was also taken aback by the comments the girls were leaving on their male classmates’ pictures. Things like, “Your so hott!” and “I lurve you!” and “Txt me pls!” (Hopefully the bad spelling isn’t indicative of the quality of their education.) Even more disturbing, I found an Instagram account called “xxx_is_ugly,” with “xxx” being the name of one of S.’s 5th grade classmates. Whoever owns the account has posted pictures of this girl with fairly nasty comments, presumably without her consent. Mean girl internet stuff at this age? Really? Maybe I’m just behind the 8-ball.

I then went through S.’s list of followers and found quite a few suspicious accounts that I blocked. Nothing overtly porn-ish, although that’s easily found on Instagram, but the people who have 5,000 followers and have yet to post a single picture. Then I made S. change his account to “private,” to help control with whom he interacted. (Which he didn’t like because his goal, as is that of his classmates, is to get as many followers as possible. Our 9th grade neighbor has over 18,000 followers and all she posts are pictures of herself and her hairbrush.)

Within a couple of days, S. grew tired of posting cat pictures and moved onto funny visuals he found on Here’s one of his favorites:

Kids using Instagram

The immediate Likes he got for this stuff was addicting and he was soon posting up to 10 “funnies” a day. He constantly checked his iTouch. I guess I can understand his excitement because it’s like telling a joke in school and having the popular kids laugh, but it was quickly becoming a problem. Finally, one day, after the third time he kept us waiting so he could check Instagram, we took his iTouch away for 24 hours. On the one hand, I was pleased he was interacting with his classmates in a new way (well, mostly), but on the other hand, the 11-year-old brain might not be ready for the constant feedback and gratification that Instagram gives.

After that, my husband and I weren’t sure if we should let him keep the account. But then two things happened that made the decision for us. First, I read this article by Rebecca Levey on Mashable that said it was illegal for kids under the age of 13 to have an Instagram account due to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Say what? I admit to being completely clueless about this because it was the first time our child had even ventured into social networking and so many of his classmates have accounts. For that oversight I feel a little foolish.

The second thing that happened was S. was locked out of his Instagram account this past weekend and told to go to their desktop site and upload a picture of his government-issued ID to prove he’s over the age of 13. Apparently, this happened to quite a few users and is due to Facebook’s (the new owner of Instagram) privacy policy changes. When S. first opened his account, he was truthful about his birthdate and was therefore flagged as illegal. (His reaction: “Darn it! I should have said I was born in 1992!”)

I admit it crossed my mind to just upload my own ID and let him keep his account, but I didn’t. Rules are rules and it’s a good thing for him to learn. (And it saved me from having to be the meanie who keeps taking his iTouch away. ) His Instagram account is now inactive and he knows he has to wait the two years until he’s a more mature 13 to try it again.

As for me, from now on I’ll know to do my due diligence whenever my kids want to start using any social networking app. I’ll also utilize some of the tools the website has for parents as well as their online use contract for kids to sign. Sure, a contract may seem a little silly, but that plus a social media discussion will reinforce to the kids the seriousness of the situation. I’m also going to insist they tell me their passwords (we already keep the iTunes password secret from them so they have to ask us before they download anything on their iTouches) so I can periodically check what they’re doing. Our Instagram experience was definitely a good lesson on both the good and bad I can expect in the coming years when my kids are online.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check my Instagram account. I posted a cute picture of me with my hairbrush this morning and I want to see how many Likes it has.

About the author

Wendi Aarons
Wendi Aarons is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two sons. You can usually find her at Wendi Aarons, The Mouthy Housewives or starting fistfights near the 70% off rack at Target.

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31 Responses to “Lesson Learned: Kids and Instagram”

  1. Betsy Jan 23 at 5:07 pm Reply Reply

    Wendi–I am so grateful that you, like the Starship Enterprise, went boldly where I had yet to go. I’ve been dealing with this exact issue. Now I’m armed with some concrete information. BTW–love your cat pix. Never stop.

    • Wendi Aarons
      Wendi Jan 23 at 5:49 pm Reply Reply

      Thank you, Betsy! And Cat Pix 4 Life.

  2. When I Blink Jan 23 at 5:24 pm Reply Reply

    Absolutely love this. Hilarious and TRUE. (And I agree:

    I am going to share it with friends, teachers, etc. 

    What a weird world we live in that we have to think through these things… I’m grateful for parents (like you) whose kids are just a half-step ahead of mine, so I can learn. Thank you for this.

    • Wendi Aarons
      Wendi Jan 23 at 5:30 pm Reply Reply

      Thanks for the nice response. Unfortunately, it’s a learn as we go process with a lot of this tech stuff.

  3. Liz Jan 23 at 6:35 pm Reply Reply

    I was just reading this bogger’s experience last week with her Instagram account being lifted by a presumably unsupervised 13 year old girl, who started behaving like a sociopath. Her point that kids will just find a new social network if their parents closely follow their Facebook (or whatever) is scary and true. You never really know how many different accounts your kid might have.

  4. Anne Jan 23 at 7:19 pm Reply Reply

    GROAN.  One of the great benefits of being old is that your kids are also old and in college or beyond.  But mention of the “Single and wants to Mingle” status and the pictures of the girl and/or her hairbrush almost make me a little wistful for the surreal (and terrifying) experience of life with tween and teenagers.  

  5. Ann Jan 23 at 11:28 pm Reply Reply

    I found the bullying part most upsetting. What a world.

  6. Kacie Jan 23 at 11:46 pm Reply Reply

    Oy. And I thought parenting toddlers was hard. Tweens and teens are a whole ‘nother league. You did good, there.

  7. Alison Jan 24 at 10:04 am Reply Reply

    Our family is having a very similar experience with Instagram and our 11 year old daughter. One other bothersome aspect: she can follow TV shows and reality-celebrities on Instagram (they often share a photo and then a long, fan fiction account of the show’s plot) when normally we wouldn’t allow her to watch these shows on TV. Since Instagram is only accessible on smart phones and small devices (our daughter accesses it on her Kindle) it’s easy for the kids to sneak watching it too.

  8. Jon Jan 24 at 10:17 am Reply Reply

    My 11 year old boy & girl have asked about this a couple of times. Thanks for the tip, I’ll keep putting them off.

  9. Jo Ann Jan 24 at 11:35 am Reply Reply

    I am slowly being dragged into the Social Media world with my kids. Ages: 11, 9, 8. The 11 & 9 are boys, the 8 yr old is the girl. When the boys got their touches, all they did and have done is download games. They iMessage me and each other, but that’s it. When my daughter got her touch, within 3 days, she had figured out she can iMessage and Facetime her 3rd grade friends. The boys still don’t care. We had to immediately make rules that Facetime was the same as the phone and she had to have my permission before initiating or accepting. It is a very scary world !  Thank you for driving the road ahead to warn of the obstacles and roadblocks.

  10. Isabel Kallman
    Isabel Jan 24 at 1:08 pm Reply Reply

    This month we have been reading NurtureShock in the Alpha Mom Parenting Book Club, and one of the things that really stuck with me is that “secretive behavior” starts much sooner than we expect. Research shows that it starts around 11 years old, peaks at 14-15 and then is actually lower by the time your kid is 18. Oy vey.

  11. Jeannette Jan 24 at 1:33 pm Reply Reply

    Great post, Wendi! Most of my son’s friends have had Instagram for a while and they are 10-11. Aside from all the issues you mention, many kids are also using a chat app via Instagram and start the “secretive behavior” Isabel mentions in her comment. It’s getting tougher and tougher to monitor and set boundaries.

  12. Arnebya Jan 25 at 5:09 pm Reply Reply

    My daughter opened an account on my husband’s iPhone, then rarely checked it. But. We got her a cell phone because she’s on the bus more this year and we allowed her to open the app there (she’s 12.) Although she hasn’t posted any squeeze your boobs with your arms, pucker your lips and take a selfie in the bathroom pictures, I became uncomfortable with some of the ones that seemed to be taken after I’d told her to put the phone away for the day. She had way too many followers she didn’t know, even being private. And worse, the girls on her feed are some of the nastiest little…they aren’t posting apporpriate pictures or sayings. I went the route of closing her account AND removing the data plan from her phone. I wish it would have dawned me sooner, the idiocy (for our family) to let her have the internet in her pocket, but I’m glad I figured it out before she got the idea to take bathroom pics in her drawers.

  13. Tara Feb 04 at 12:28 pm Reply Reply

    my nephew is 12 and loves Instagram. I follow hima and he posts the same sort of funnies, however, the girls in his school that he follows post a lot more mature stuff and use the same bad spelling that you noted. I wonder if he recently got locked out of the account, that’s great they are doing that

    • Titi Jun 17 at 1:23 pm Reply Reply

      That ‘bad spelling’ is called slang.  
      And seriously people? If you overprotect your child now, then they’re just going to feel isolated, like you don’t trust them. Overprotecting won’t help them when they are grown up and living on their own , because they will be relying on you all the time. They need to learn to look after themselves!;)

    • Fairytale Feb 19 at 11:24 am Reply Reply

      My daughter is also 12 and she has her own instagram an facebook. I decided to use parental control software to protect her. Of course I don’t wanna block her insta and fb account but I control her time of using internet with PCWebControl. I think it’s a good idea if you take care of your kids.

  14. Christine Jun 25 at 5:55 pm Reply Reply

    Why do smart parents let their children have so much technology they are not ready for? My boys are 10 and 13, do not have a cell phone, nor any electronic device glued to their hip. They are technolgy savvy, but do not need this compication and diversion in their lives. It is of no benefit. The situation the author was discussing about her son is nothing to laugh about. Studies have shown sites like Facebook rewire our brains and they become addictive. Furthermore, people who are on these web sites are not happier because of them. For the majority the opposite is true.

  15. Gigi Nov 17 at 4:04 am Reply Reply

    Thank you for this- I had to read it loud to my son who is 11 years old. I found out today that he has Instagram and his classmate told him sign up for this. I ask him how did he sign up and is he aware of the rules. He used his school email address he said and didn’t even read the agreement. I told him to deactivate immediately and never sign up for any social website without our permission. I told him it’s not always cool to be on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Not even cool to follow his classmate advice just to win a friend.

  16. Mary McDonald Mar 05 at 11:42 am Reply Reply

    I was planning to use Instagram filters as a “tool” for a tween photography program this summer. I googled “Using Instagram with Kids” thinking I would find all kinds of fun projects using the filters and producing fun artsy albums. Yikes! It is all this terror. My kids are grown- it had slipped my mind what a minefield all of this social networking is for younger set.Having huge second thoughts and OOOps! the summer program flyer has already gone out to the old fashioned printer. 

  17. S Apr 09 at 5:58 pm Reply Reply

    Someone needs to teach kids about respecting the intellectual property rights of other people so they stop posting things on Instagram that they have no legal right to post. Besides it being against the Terms of Service, one of these days a kid’s going to steal the wrong image and mommy and daddy will be whining that he/she is just a kid and that they (the parents) shouldn’t be legally responsible for the thousands of dollars or legal action.

  18. Bella Apr 15 at 1:08 am Reply Reply

    Lol I love that photo

  19. Magaiy May 14 at 6:06 pm Reply Reply

    I’m so glad I read this! My daughter is the same age and in the fifth grade. She wants one really bad, I’m glad I can give her a more reasonable, “NO!” She’s just not ready. Thank you so much;)

  20. Maureen Jun 06 at 6:00 pm Reply Reply

    Great article. Thank you. Have a 5th grade boy wanting Instgram and I said no and am sticking to it, especially now that I know he is underage. Just another reason to be sucked into his Itouch and not doing something better!

  21. Jenessa Jul 30 at 12:05 pm Reply Reply

    My 13 year old daughter has Instagram on the conditions that we are allowed to check on it, however she can’t post anything innapropriate as she has allowed her granma to follow her. My mother (her granma) lives 3 hours away so it is a great way to keep in touch. She doesn’t have her account on private and therefore has aquired 700 something followers but she hardly ever posts selfies. Her friends from less well brought up areas and schools however post extremely provocative pictures and my daughter often says how they “beg it” off boys. I think it’s ok for some to have instagram but not others! Depending on how responsible they are!! 

  22. BJ Mar 04 at 7:26 pm Reply Reply

    In Australia, our politicians are only just getting around to some legislative fencing for this minefield, I don’t believe in suppressing freedoms but when your market is young kids lacking experience in relationships, judgement and life generally, you are going to get a pretty crazy environment. Facebook et al need to face up to their responsibilities a little better rather than exploitation of the young just to popularise (then commercialise) their product. The area of identification needs attention but these companies know the cost of processes and compliance can be a party dampener. Exclusion really dampens their party.

    Very informative blog Wendi!

  23. Sangita Mar 19 at 11:35 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you so much for posting this experience! Truly appreciate it as I just had that same request from my 11 year old!! Blessed that I decided to research first and came across your experience.  What a world we are in – kids “used” to play outside and play games, now I guess they feel lost without electronics!  Thank you once again.


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