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Alpha Mom Lesson Learned

Lesson Learned: Kids and Instagram

By Wendi Aarons

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 NetSmartz has for parents as well as their online safety pledges for kids. Sure, a pledge 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.

Pin for Later

Last week, my my 11-year-old son asked if he could sign up for an Instagram account. This was definitely an eye-opening experience for me and my husband and taught us an important lesson about our kids online.

Wendi Aarons
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 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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  • 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.

    • Thank you, Betsy! And Cat Pix 4 Life.

  • 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.

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

  • Liz

    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.

  • 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.  

  • Ann

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

  • Kacie

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

  • Alison

    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.

  • Jon

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

  • Jo Ann

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Welcome and Look Alive Helena

      Are you kidding me? Parents these days are so overprotective, and even worse, their grammar is probably worse than their children’s!

  • 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

      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!;)

      • Faith

        THANK YOU!

        Okay. For all you people that say having an Instagram, or any social media for that matter, is inappropriate and not safe, you clearly don’t realize how safe they can be if your child is being responsible. They can set their account so that only people they know can view their posts (by making the account private in settings), and that really is helpful. Personally, I have an Instagram, and my account is set private and I have no complaints about anything inappropriate. If your child happens to see something inappropriate, they can just block the person that posted it, or, if it’s really bad, report them. Besides, sheltering them from the real world is not healthy. They go to middle or high school, and trust me, the environment there is not exactly “Kuddle” appropriate. Your children need to know how the real world works anyway. Even if they see something online, such as cursing in the comments (if they don’t want to block that person), it’s not like they’re going to go around cursing at people. Keep in mind your child needs to be responsible though, I’m not just saying that you should hand a four year old an iPhone and tell them to go crazy on Instagram or Twitter, but just that you don’t give your teens enough credit. They can handle themselves. Unless your child is a complete idiot or not mature enough, I think they can handle it. They’re the ones who decide to follow random people. They’re the ones who decide to be on it 24/7. They’re the ones who decide not to have a private account. Instagram’s not the one telling them to do that, it’s just themselves. There’s not automatically going to be super inappropriate things on there unless it’s your child that wants to follow those kinds of accounts. If that’s the case, I suggest immediate counseling. It just comes down to how much common sense they have. Oh, and about “Kuddle”… It’s not even that different from Instagram if you have a private account, except you ask yourself if you know them instead of the phone asking you if you know them like you’re an idiot. In fact, the only difference is that no one is on Kuddle and it’s an embarrassment to have one. Besides, think about your poor middle schooler asking their peers if they had a Kuddle account. Yeah. Not good.

      • Welcome and Look Alive Helena

        THANK YOU! Amazingly said! I’m honestly tired of the overprotective parents who proudly commented that they banned their child from social media.

      • Georgia

        Finally someone who understands life!!😂

    • Fairytale

      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.

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  • Christine

    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.

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  • Gigi

    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.

  • Mary McDonald

    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. 

  • S

    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.

  • Bella

    Lol I love that photo

  • Magaiy

    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;)

    • Erza Scarlet

      your right say NO to your daughter

  • Maureen

    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!

  • Jenessa

    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!! 

    • lojean

      700 followers is too many , even if she is not posting pictures.  These (strangers ) following her can talk to her via private message… change her settings ti private and make sure you know the friends following yiur daughter!  Better safe than sorry!

      • Chantelle

        There is no such thing as too many followers, and yes they can talk to her in private message but you know what strangers can also come right up to her and talk to her in person so maybe we should just put a bag over her dad so no strangers can talk to her!! (Sounds pretty stupid doesn’t it?) private account or not should be up to the child and parents

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  • BJ

    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!

  • Sangita

    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.

  • Erza Scarlet

    this was great story you told i dident read to the end but i’ts already so good and i hope your child quits this instagram i dont use it because of the same reason witch is the bullying and bad stuff 🙂

  • BP

    My experience is that it is MOSTLY kids on instagram. The only people I know who use it are my 12 year old daughter and ALL of her friends. We have checked her account from time to time to see what she is up to and its mostly tips on doing your hair and nails from other tweens. Not sure why, but this SM outlet seems to draw the younger crowd much more than others do.

  • Hannah

    Recently my 10 year old went for a sleepover, with 2 freinds. 1 of them had an instagram account . She showed my daughter and the other girl the app, and they instantly wanted it. When my daughter came home she hung around me with her iPad , where ever I went she went. I asked her what was up and she said ‘please can I have this game . I took her iPad and looked at the game. What is this, I asked. It’s called instagram, she said. After a quick check around the photos, I realised it was social. No! No social stuff till your 13, I realised. For weeks she was stroppy, and my husband is too soft. Maybe we should download this app thingy she wants, he told me when my daughter was in bed. But its social media, she is 10 years old, i replied. Yes but it could be good for her to interact , he said. Ok then, you sort her out , but dont complain if you don’t like it, i said. The next day my husband downloaded the app. My daughter screamed with exitment as it loaded, but then screamed with horror. It needs an email! She cried. My daughter does not have an email. Well then you can’t have it, I said happily. She stomped off, and my husband moaned at me. I will make her an email, he said. I frowned moodily and left him. He called our daughter downstairs and said he made her an email . She thanked him and entered the email and her name. Then it loaded…… She started looking at her freinds profiles and commenting on their pics. She uploaded a pic of her pouting, and she waited eagerly for a response. 1 boy commented “your a little hotty”
    She put back, thanks hot babe! I checked her account and saw all these things, and showed my husband. He said its just kids having fun, and i need to chill out. I was annoyed at him, and this put tension on our marriage. She constantly went on instagram , and I peered over her shoulder to see what she was doing. My husband said I should give her space to do her own thing. I couldn’t bare this much longer! I snook on her iPad and looked at her pics. I noticed a girl, a very pretty girl, with long blonde hair and brown eyes had been posted by my daughter. My daughter has long blonde hair and brown eyes, but this girl was not her! She said this is me am I pretty, in the comments ! I was at breaking point. I deleted her account and took away her ipad. She now has her ipad back, it was only takes away for a couple of days. This was months ago, and yet i still get grief. So instagram put stress on the whole family. I broke up with my partner , and this is partly because of instagram. Dont get the app !!!

    • Welcome and Look Alive Helena

      Honestly, your comment disgusts me. Firstly, fix your spelling and grammar. Secondly, it’s not like she doesn’t have comment sense! I believe that she will NOT do anything inappropriate, knowing that YOU wouldn’t let her do it, being the overprotective snooper you are. Finally, how does this affect the relationship with your spouse?
      Why are you against your child exploring Instagram? Why are you SO intent on shielding her? She is 10 years old, she can handle this. She probably has better spelling and grammar than you, too. Just think about that.

  • kate

    Children (14 and under) should not be on social media. It is not worth the risk. There are way too many risks with social media. Why put your child in that potential danger. 

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  • Kaydence

    I like instgram all the funny videos

    • cindy

      I let my 13 old have an instagram account because he was trustworthy. He was currently reading lots of books and so he decided to make a fan page with instagram having to do with art. Thought it was great and innocent. It started that way….but when your child is young, they are not mature enough to have the technology world in their hands. He learned from other KIDS about cutting, swearing became cool on line etc. He started to cut himself because it was the way he learned from other kids to deal with stress. Talking about parents and how much chores, grounding, how bad his parents are is cool he learned. I was shocked to find out what some of his followers (that were buy the way ANIME for kids) were about. 13,14 is way to young to have even if you think your kids are responsible and trustworthy. Mine was….but he was so influenced by “friends”……I now worry, have him in counseling etc. Please don’t give instagram or any other social media to your young kids…and yes…14 is still a young kid.

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  • Sabrina

    Hi guys,
    I have a few words to say. Instagram is ok for kids 11 and over. Several reasons why, you can have the account private so that only people that your child follows or knows can see there pictures and comment on there photos. Also, it’s a great way to interact with peers and friends, my 11 and 13 year old both begged for Instagram so they could look at celebrities accounts and talk to there friends while sharing pictures. I monitored there accounts and it surprised me that they were being nice and responsible children and were causing no harm to themselves or others. If your kids don’t have any way of communicating they won’t know what to expect in the real world when they move out and go to college. My opinion is not to hold your child back from socializing and letting then have Instagram because it can be monitored! Don’t worry kids aren’t as bad, inappropriate, or misbehaved as you think!??

  • Moms, wake up

    Do any of you clueless parents realize how much PORN is available for anyone to peruse on INSTAGRAM? Do you not know that your kids can punch in an innocent hashtag and all kinds of garbage instantly appears. It is ridiculous and some of you should have your heads examined….IG is NOT for children. Period.

  • Jen

    Completely agree with the mom above and actually my google search on inappropriate Instagram material is what linked me to this post. The last two weeks I’ve been delving further into Insta, instead of just posting cute pics of my kids and following mom bloggers. To say I’m stunned doesn’t begin to cover it. When you go to the trending section, which I had never done until recently, there are countless – countless! – images of hardcore porn and naked girls. There are 15 second videos of masterbation and girls pleasuring each other. Close-ups of female genitalia. The other day I reviewed a very harmless hashtag trend only to find a close-up video of a man in the midst of ejactulation. Ladies, for the love of God, please get your kids off of this app. It’s disgusting and I promise you they are seeing far more than you could ever dream up. I literally thought I was going to vomit when I discovered this material out there in the open, among all the innocent photos of home decor, babies, and pretty meals. It’s not a laughing matter. I have an 11 year old boy and honestly he will not be on social media until he is out of the house and supporting himself. It’s our job to protect our kids from this filth when they are under our care, not download the app and lie for them just so they can be cool.

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  • Krisf

    I just intercepted a message intended for my 11 year old daughter from a 19 yr old boy asking for a nude pic. Apparently, after further investigation, it wasn’t the first time he’d asked. She responded twice telling him she thought he was too old but she didn’t mind being his friend. My adrenaline is in so high I could break her iPad in half. I came across this while searching for the appropriate way to handle this.

  • Jess

    I let my 12yr old daughter open an insta account. Thought I did everything right. I explained all the dangers, make up a contract and had her sign it, had her show me all items before she posted snything. She followed it all and I was trusting her. I just found out this morning that she just opened another insta account on her own without my knowledge and posted questionable videos under some type of fetish topic, making “squishy”noises and squirting had cream from bottles. I have deleted all the videos and removed all her info from the account. The only reason I found out was I turned on her device and she left the account open on her screen. It was so disturbing. So even if you think they are following the rules. It is way too easy for them to open other accounts behind your back.

  • Jess

    Yes even if you take away their devices, they use their friend devices to sign on and do what they want. Instagram is destroying children.

  • Chantelle

    I personally feel Instagram is a great app and you should let your children know you are with them, not against them and they can go to you about any problems or difficulties they experience while using Instagram. You can occasionally check your child’s Instagram but you shouldn’t have total control over it. You may steer them in the right direction but make sure you take a step back and trust them. Inform them they need to be responsible and make good, healthy choices. 12 is the lowest age I would allow for a child to have Instagram as nudity, hate and other awful baggage can come with it. It is very much a personal opinion but if your child is responsible and mature, you should not hold them back. One of the main reasons your child will probably want to get Instagram is because many of his/her friends have it but do you want you child to be miserable and alone or happy and popular and in the loop? You decide but remember it is their life and at 12 they should know the difference between good and bad choices.