We've always documented our family through photos, and you all know I'm the Queen of Selfies, so it just made sense that our kids started their journey on social media with Instagram. My boys really love to take photos and make videos of their favourite foods, fun places we go to and even goofy faces they make, so I decided to get them an account on Instagram. I don't think that Facebook and Twitter are really even on their radar. They're not the place for kids and tweens like before and much harder to monitor as a parent, so Instagram was my comfort zone. Being on Instagram allows them to share their photos in an environment that I feel is safe and where I can monitor them (and their friends) closely.
Deciding to let both of our boys have accounts at age 6 and 10 was not a decision we took lightly. In our house, it's considered a privilege that comes with responsibility. Getting on Instagram came with rules and restrictions and served as a great first step towards more independence online. I was in a position to watch them and advise them on etiquette, rules and even appropriateness- a good lesson to learn when starting on social.
Here are my Top 10 Tips for Starting your Kids on Instagram:
- Set the account to private so that new followers must be approved by you. This is a great tool to keep control of the account.
- Lay down the rules for the kids. Talk to your child about online etiquette like acceptable and appropriate language, types of photos they are allowed to post and rules for following others. Set the rules for the "celebrities" that they can follow. In our house, we have some simple rules; I must approve all followers and people they follow, language has to be respectful and no entering or running contests where they have to judge or rate their friends.
- Watch your child daily. Monitor their photos, status and comments on photos. Let them know that you will be checking in on the posts from time to time.
- Use every opportunity as a teachable moment for both of you. If your child posts a status that isn't appropriate, ask your child to remove it but also explain why. Ty once posted a photo of his grumpy face and posted "Mondays make me want to kill someone". When I saw it, I first asked him what he thought others might think about this, then when he saw the message he was conveying, he agreed to delete it and post the same great silly photo with "I hate Monday mornings" as his status. He learned an important lesson. Jayden needs to practice his spelling and writing, so my rule with him is that he has to type at least one sentence with each photo. It encourages him to practice in a fun environment!
- Get BOTH parents and even grandparents on Instagram for some family sharing! My own mom has been resisting any social network for years. All that changed when I created an account for her on Instagram. All of a sudden she started engaging with her grandsons, their friends and my friends and it's been tons of fun to share this with her while she is over an hour away. It's a great opportunity for grandparents who live out of town, to connect with grandkids in a digital way.
- Set screen time rules. Kids (and grown ups) can get obsessed with the likes and comments. You might want to set time aside for Instagram or only allow it on the weekends. In our house, the line is "go play with REAL friends, not Instagram friends".
- Follow your kid's friends. Get to know their interests, activities, personalities and let them know you're watching. I know you might get some resistance, but it's a good idea.
- Watch for behaviour that could be concerning. Are they upset when no one 'likes' their photos? Do they check it too often to see who made a new comment? If yes, then it's a great time to chat about the importance of keeping a healthy perspective on what "likes" and "comments" really mean and how it can impact self esteem. This will be a life-long skill that can never be too early to learn.
- Be careful about online voting on photos. I've seen a few of my kid's friends posting a collage asking followers to vote for who should be taken off the photo or who is the best friend. This can't feel good for the kids voted off and can lead to bullying or teasing online or in real life. Be aware of these types of posts and have a chat with your child about how this might feel to be excluded.
- If you notice a child who is doing something inappropriate, talk to their parent. Maybe those parents aren't on Instagram and really don't understand how it works- there are many parents who might not even know they have an account! My feeling is, tell them...you would want to know, right?
Are your kids on social media? What are YOUR rules or tips for other parents?