October 7, 2021 – How young is “too young” for Instagram? Ever since it became known that Instagram was developing a platform for children, the idea has been hotly debated.
“Instagram Kids” is designed for children ages 10 to 12 and will have parental controls, no ads, and other child safety features, according to Adam Mosseri, Head of Instagram.
Some parents have said the ability to keep track of their children’s social media activities would be appreciated.
But other parents, experts, and lawmakers have said that even with extra checks, Instagram isn’t a place for kids to be.
Those worried about Instagram kids have at least been given a temporary grace period. Facebook, the company that owns Instagram, announced last week that it is now postponing plans for its new kid-friendly Instagram service.
“While we stand by our decision to develop this experience, we decided to take a break to give ourselves time to work with parents, experts, policy makers and regulators to hear their concerns and understand the value and importance of this project for younger teenagers to demonstrate online today, ”Mosseri said in a statement on Twitter.
The delay also comes after TheWall Street Journal released an investigation report showing that research by Facebook found that mental health issues in teenagers, including body image issues and thoughts of suicide, are related to time spent on Instagram.
Young girls are particularly affected, as evidence shows.
A slide show now revealed from a study conducted by Facebook found that 13% of UK teenagers and 6% of American teenagers trace their suicidal thoughts back to their time on Instagram.
Facebook has rejected the Wall Street Journal’s presentation of their research, stating that the report lacks important context for their findings.
Underage social media users
While a number of social media platforms have age restrictions, it is easy for children to lie about their age as no real proof is required to open an account.
For example, to open an Instagram or Facebook account, you must be at least 13 years old.
But according to a report from Thorn, an anti-trafficking organization that develops technology to combat children, a staggering 45% of children between the ages of 9 and 12 use Facebook daily and 40% of children of the same age group use Instagram for sexual abuse.
While some parents have already taken a tough stance on Instagram Kids one way or another, others are still weighing the pros and cons.
Christina Wilds, author of Dear Little Black Girl and specialist in media and talent relationships, documents her life on Instagram, where she has more than 10,000 followers. Wilds lives in New York City with her entertainer husband Mack Wilds and their young daughter Tristyn.
Wilds, 32, says that despite seeing both positive and negative aspects of Instagram Kids, knowing that her child cannot access certain content would make her feel better.
“If a twelve-year-old were to step on Instagram on the platform right now, nothing would stop them from seeing the inappropriate content that is posted daily,” she says.
“When someone posts a nude photo on Instagram and it goes viral, there is no parental control, no way for me to stop my child from seeing what’s popular during that time,” says Wilds.
Is a children’s platform the answer?
While there are serious concerns about child safety online, some say that setting up social media platforms for children like Instagram Kids should not be seen as the only way to protect teens.
“The Instagram myth is inevitably just that – a myth. Our kids don’t have to be on social media. Neither do we, by the way. In fact, Facebook doesn’t have to grow any further. We could make political choices to stop it, ”wrote Christine Emba, opinion columnist and editor of the Washington Post, in a recent article.
It’s also important to keep in mind that not all parents are able to closely monitor their child’s Instagram Kids account, especially single parents and families where both parents work or have multiple jobs, according to Jeff Hancock, PhD, professor of Communications at Stanford University and founding director of the Stanford Social Media Lab.
“For some families that would work very well; Families who have the time and attention resources to continue to monitor and be active in their children, ”he says.
“But not all families have that. A system that relies on the parents’ attention to monitor it will be problematic. “
Negative mental health effects could also be a major problem, according to Jeremy Tyler, PsyD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and director of psychotherapy in outpatient psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
“We already know that there are a lot of children who are a little older than them who go to dark places from these platforms and have some negative effects,” he says.
“I think it’s something we shouldn’t take lightly.”
Separate the real from the wrong
One of the main reasons a kids’ Instagram service could be a problem is that kids under the age of 13 are still in a developmental stage in life and are often very suggestible, says Tyler.
This can be particularly problematic with filtered or edited photos.
Apps like Perfect Me and Body Tune give you the opportunity to slim down and reshape your body in your photos. Among other things, you can improve certain functions and smooth and refresh your skin.
But unlike adults, children often have a much harder time telling the difference between authenticity and fake, says Tyler.
“People get a very filtered and different look of themselves, which makes the younger children feel like this is normal,” he says.
“They see something that gets 10,000 likes and tons of hearts and thumbs up comments and positive reinforcement – they learn socially through that observation and modeling. They can’t really cognitively decipher that it’s not necessarily real life, ”he says.
Writer and content creator Bree Lenehan echoes Tyler’s point of view.
“As a teenager, you learn and develop your beliefs, morals, personality traits, values, what you like or dislike – you are practically a sponge that soaks up information. So when you include social media in the mix, it can be tricky, ”says Lenehan, 25.
And it’s not just public figures that Instagram users compare themselves to, says actress and content creator Asia Jackson.
“You don’t just follow celebrities, you also follow people you know,” she says. “And nobody wants to post negative things about their life, they only want to post positive things.”
“I think a lot of these psychological problems can be traced back to the platform with the seemingly perfectly curated lives of the people.”
Keep it real
Lenehan, author of the fantasy novel Pembrim: The Hidden Alcove, says she has struggled with negative body image for a large part of her life.
She remembers a time last year when her partner Dylan photographed her by the pool.
“I felt terrible looking back at the photos that I wasn’t posing in or ready for the photo. I usually kept deleting those laid back snaps because I was tough on myself, ”she says.
“But I didn’t do it this time. I knew that I didn’t want to be so hard on myself anymore. “
She challenged herself to upload these laid-back, candid photos each week in a series she calls “Real Me Mondays”.
“In the beginning it was just for me; to overcome my fear of not being good enough, my fear that others will judge me. It was terrifying. But over time I noticed that it was very encouraging and helped others too, ”says Lenehan.
Lenehan, who has over 463,000 followers on Instagram, says she felt perfectly comfortable in her own skin after releasing her Real Me Monday series last year.
“I appreciate what my body does for me so much more than what it looks like now, and I hope to encourage others to feel the same about themselves,” she says.
Jackson also uses her social media platforms – she has more than 82,000 followers on Instagram and 440,000 followers on YouTube – to raise awareness about topics she is passionate about, including mental health.
Last year Jackson, 27, decided to tell her followers that she was struggling with depression and was being treated with antidepressants.
“I figured if I could just speak authentically about my own experience, it could resonate with a lot of people,” she says.
“Lots of people said they were glad they found this video because it was conversations they had at home with their parents, or with their family, or even with their friends.”
She says this is one of the many positive aspects of social media.
Jackson, who is black and Filipino, created a hashtag #MagandangMorenx, which means “beautiful brown girl”, to challenge colorism in Filipino communities.
“I got an email from someone after this hashtag went viral and they told me that the people proud of their skin color on that hashtag have changed their minds about a skin whitening treatment,” says Jackson.
“Only something you saw online changed your mind about serious cosmetic treatment.”
Wilds says a primary goal of her Instagram platform is to inspire other moms to both be themselves and accept themselves without the pressures of social media.
“I think we often see the perfect snapback, the perfect pregnancy, and that’s not everyone’s reality,” she says.
“I want to set realistic expectations of what motherhood really looks like – without the nanny, without the lipo operation or the mommy makeover.”
When she sees other mothers admiring their post-baby body in the comment section, she cheers them on again.
“Whenever I go for long walks or run, I post it in my story and tag other mothers who I know are going through the same things as me to encourage them and vice versa.”
Much stricter security measures are required if we are to ensure a healthy social media environment for children, according to Hancock.
“I would like to see that before you start using any of these technologies, especially as a young person, you need to take a course – not just a small webinar,” he says.
“For example, you must have attended a course in your school and received a certain grade.
And as long as you don’t do that, you mustn’t use this technology. “
Balancing positive aspects of Instagram like self-expression and creativity with negative aspects like social comparison and heightened concern about one’s looks and body could be a huge challenge since Instagram is largely image-based, he says.
“Will it be something where we never allow young people to have such technology? I do not know. There are many reasons why it can be useful to people, but I don’t realize we need something for this age group. “