Parents, are you on Instagram? You should be.
A poll from the PewResearchCenter reports more that half of teen ages 13-17 are on Instagram. It's still second to Facebook as their social media platform of choice, but fewer parents are on the platform, which could explain why it's quickly becoming the place for teen conversation.
Navigating social media as parents is tricky. We can't use our own childhoods as a reference guide. We don't want to be helicopter parents, but we're not sure we're ready to be free range parents. So, we hover somewhere in the middle, terrified our kids will post something they'll regret for the rest of their lives.
Well, move over Emily Post, there’s a new form of social etiquette and it just might allow you to maintain your “cool mom” status on social media. Here’s three quick tips on how to respectfully snoop on your teen’s Instagram.
1.Tell your teen you’ll be following their Instagram
In fact, Alli Neal, co-founder of Revved Up Kids, says you should follow all of your kid’s social media accounts. Yes, that means you have to sign up for an Instagram account yourself. Instagram is pretty straight forward, but if you get confused, ask your teen! This opens up an organic line of communication to discuss how Instagram works.
Once you’re set up, search for your teen’s account or have them help you if you can’t find it. If the profile is private, they will have to accept your request. Many safety experts actually encourage the use of private profiles.
“Would your kids let a complete stranger snoop around in their room?”, Revved Up Kids writes on Twitter, “With public profiles on their social media, that’s what’s happening”.
If you’re following your teen’s Instagram, you’ll be able to see most of the videos and pictures he or she shares with followers. But here’s a friendly reminder, you may not be able to see everything. Instagram does have a feature where you can share content privately with friends.
2. Exercise etiquette to avoid eye rolls
“Don’t be an active follower”, Neal suggests, “just be a voyeur”. While kids are constantly counting likes, Neal suggests less is more. “Watch over what your kids are doing and saying, but never comment or like anything. This will keep your child from being embarrassed by the fact that they know you”.
Take a look at the “Following” tab if you really want to get a feel for what your teen is exposed to. This is where you can see what the people you follow like and share. You can even see comments on videos and photos too, but only if the post is on a public account.
You can also peek at your teen’s friends list, but Neal cautions against accepting or requesting follow requests from your child’s friends.
“Using my lens” she says, “a teen who routinely requests to follow their friends’ parent, or other adult acquaintances, might open the door for an opportunist adult seeking an inappropriate relationship” and it’s better to steer clear.
Also, it’s important to remember that teens are savvy when it comes to social media and may do a little snooping of their own. It’s easy to see who you’re following, who is following you back and the photos and videos you’re liking and commenting on, depending on the privacy settings of a given post.
3. Don’t let your snooping snag conversation
When parents lay down the law online, most teens automatically assume it’s because they can’t be trusted. But when it comes to issues of safety, Neal says it’s important to remember you are not your child’s friend, you are the parent.
“Children should understand from the beginning that everything they do should be expected to be seen by you," she said. “Hopefully this will help them make good decisions.”
Neal advises parents set clear rules from the beginning. She suggests creating a contract outlining the do’s and don’ts of online behavior, that also lays out consequences.
But the conversation can’t end once the rules are in place. Communication is key.
“This isn’t a one-and-done conversation, it needs to be frequent”, Neal says. If you see something questionable on your son’s Instagram, ask about it! If your daughter’s friend requests to follow you, tell her! If you’re having trouble sparking up a conversation, Neal suggests using real life examples as a non-confrontational way to educate about social media safety.
Here’s the takeaway: You should definitely monitor your teen’s Instagram, but use the information you gather to build a stronger relationship.