5.16.2013

7 Rules for Kids on Instagram

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I recently read a fantastic blog post written by a church youth group leader about Instagram. It's a very informative article with thoughtful advice on helping your kids guard against some prevalent pitfalls of  the photo-sharing website. (Read the original post here. For a very brief overview of Instagram, read this post.)

I have two daughters. Both will be in middle school in August. Both have Instagram accounts, as do the vast majority of their friends. But just like I wouldn't set them loose to babysit colic-ridden infant twins in an unfamiliar city without some thorough instruction, I definitely wasn't going to set them loose on the internet armed with a camera and the ability to type without providing some guidance.

Some of these tips I offered from the get-go, some we learned the hard way, and some I developed from plain ol' observation. This is certainly not a definitive list, but it has given us a common understanding on what's okay and what's not when it comes to Instagram.

Here are our Middle School Rules for Instagram (and really any social media. For that matter, life in general):

Make your account private. Only allow people you know to follow you, and do not assume just because someone is your follower that they are your friend. In fact, assume any 14-year-old girl you don't personally know who asks to follow you is actually a 54-year-old balding man with a protruding gut who smells of rancid bacon grease and wants help finding his lost puppy. In other words, run away screaming and let an adult know if someone you don't know tries repeatedly to befriend you online.

Never put anything in writing between midnight and 6 a.m. Here’s the thing: when you’re in middle school, the hormones are raging, you suffer occasionally from advanced stages of paranoia (“Is she looking at my hair? She hates my hair. My hair is terrible. Everyone in school thinks I am a loser because of my hair. I am SHAVING OFF MY HAIR THE MINUTE I GET HOME.”), and when in a group you can justify nearly anything being a good idea — almost all of which will be terrible ideas. Throw in a little sleep deprivation and you have a recipe for disaster. Give yourself the opportunity to make more thoughtful decisions after a good night's rest. Turn off that phone.

Ask Yourself: Would I Do This In Person? For example, would you sit at the lunch table and say "OMG, Becky! The party Friday was the BEST! Everyone had an amazing time! All the cool kids were there, and that boy you have a crush on? Totally there! Sucks that you were the only girl not invited. Must have something to do with your hair." Probably not. Good manners aside, you don't want to hurt your friend's feelings. So why would you post pictures that will do just that? Just because you can't see or hear the hurt doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It does. Obviously every single person can't be invited to every single social gathering, but be sensitive to how your pictures impact other people.

No sending subliminal messages. Before you post a picture, ask yourself "what's my intention?" Because if you are posting a picture with the caption "I Love You, Kate! You know how to be a true friend. Unlike SOME people," this is called being passive aggressive. Big no no. This includes the "feeling left out" and similar posts where your intent is to get someone to say "what's wrong?" Post fun, silly pics all day long ... but don't drag 500 followers into your tussle with a friend or your personal moping session.

Will this photo be remembered at my high school graduation ... in a bad way? These photos of adorable, gorgeous, innocent middle school girls displaying their latest gymnastics technique in a most unflattering way? Or the ones with a girl performing a back dive while wearing a bikini that with the tiniest provocation will likely be located at the bottom of the pool -- without them in it? Terrible ideas. While not overtly or intentionally inappropriate, trust me when I say you must make sure your photos aren't going to earn you the nickname "butt-cheek girl" or worse. These are not names you want to be remembered by come senior year.

Follow the "Would I Do This In Front of My Mom?" rule. If you wouldn't do something in a room with your parents, your principal or your preacher (for example, use foul language), then don't do it online (like post a picture with the F-bomb superimposed on top of the picture.) Because guess what? We're watching. Incidentally, if you wouldn't say "I think it's awesome when my friend Sam drops the F-bomb" in front of that same parental crowd, don't like Sam's F-bomb photo. Because guess what? I can see what pictures you like, and ... have I ever told you about guilt by association? Because that applies here.

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I know this sounds harsh. But here's the thing: there are people who won't use great sensitivity on Instagram. Most of the time it's unintentional. Unfortunately, there are a few who will use it like a virtual weapon, trying to make themselves feel better by making others feel bad. We can't control what other people post, but we can control how we interact on Instagram. If it is going to bother you to see pictures of others doing things without you, stay off Instagram. Instagram is sorta like a prescription: the doctor prescribes a medicine because the benefits outweigh the nasty side-effects, and if the side-effects aren't worth the benefits you change course. Same with Instagram. If you find it's more upsetting than it is fun, it's time to take a break until you're feeling more secure.

Have my kids skirted some of these rules? Yep. How do I know? Because in order to have an account, they have to let me follow them. And I check up on them regularly, usually every day. It's not because I don't trust my kids -- I do trust them. But I also know it's a heck of a lot easier as a kid to follow the rules if you know there will be spot-checks, course corrections, and consequences for missteps. So I shamelessly stalk them online, and remind them with the occasional "Love that cute picture you posted today!" or by correcting their grammar in the comments section. Which is met with universal disdain, but sure does give me the giggles.

Moms and dads: do you allow your kids to have an Instagram account? What are your rules for your kids when it comes to Instagram?

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