5 Reasons Why Teens Love Instagam


Teens are staking their claim in a new digital hangout, Instagram. Time Magazine calls the photo sharing site, “social media’s current queen bee,” citing research that found three quarters of teens prefer it as their go-to social media site. Today’s Parent App Alert post unpacks the good and the bad of this hot site for teens.

Here are five reasons Instagram is such a huge hit with adolescents. It’s…

5. Free – the app costs nothing. There aren’t even any ads, unless you choose to follow a brand.

4. Creative – More than sharing statuses, Instagram is about sharing experiences through photos. It offers tools to enhance pictures, or users can search for and share memes, create pretty quotes, share artwork, and more.

3. Fun – share memorable moments and comment on friends’ posts.

2. Free from the social drama associated with Facebook.

And finally…

1.  It’s where their parents are not hanging out.


Instagram is a picture sharing app for smartphones. The application allows the user to enhance photos with special filters before posting.

One blogger described Instagram like this: “If you’re really old school, it’s like scrapbooking with your phone.”

But it doesn’t stop with photos. Short videos can also be posted. Instagram has a significant social media function too. Every user has a public profile that includes a photo, name or username, and a blurb. Most importantly, followers can interact by liking and commenting.


Users have the option of setting their account to Private, but a lot of users feel this defeats the purpose of Instagram. It’s a photo sharing app, after all. And many see the point of Instagram as amassing followers.

In fact, a huge following is considered desirable to plenty of people. For some teens, the number of followers and likes reflects popularity, likability, and even (in some cases) self-worth.

The “Cool Ratio”

Find a really honest teenager and ask him or her to explain the Cool Ratio to you. Apparently, for some kids the best Instagram scenario is one where the number of your followers is significantly greater than the number of those you’re following. The bigger the disparity, the cooler… apparently.

My ratio of 11 Followers to 24 Following makes me decidedly UNCOOL.

Taylor Swift, on the other hand, has 49.7 million followers to 78 Following.

This makes her WAY COOL.

Maybe you think I’m making this “Cool Ratio” thing up. Check out this Business Insider AU article for a funny take on Gen Y’s understanding of maths and how not to use #Hashtags on Instagram.

Is This Even Healthy?

Headspace, the Australian National Mental Health Foundation, advocates for the well-being of young Australians. In their Instagram for Parents booklet, they point out,

“… when it comes to apps such Instagram, young people feel extremely positive about the way it can help them communicate with friends and family. Instagram, and apps like that, also allow young people to express themselves creatively.”

One blogger advises: “Whether you like it or not — or even if you wish it were otherwise — mobile technology plays a big role in how kids build and strengthen friendships during the sometimes awkward pre-teen years.” Sadly, some kids do become marginalised because they lack access to social media. If your family has strong values against social media use, hold fast by all means, but be sure to offer plenty of face-to-face opportunities for your children.

The Risks and Ruses

Here are a few considerations for parents.

  • Age Limit – The terms and conditions specify that users must be 13 or older, but there is nothing in place to enforce the rule.
  • Who Views? – A user profile with a public setting allows a person to share their photos and view the photos of anyone. Remember, Instagram enthusiasts consider a huge following a goal and a status symbol, so many kids don’t want to follow the “old” cybersafety advice of only friending people you know personally.
  • InstagramGirlMeanness – While social drama may be less on Instagram, it’s still there. It often comes up in the form of social retaliation and strategic exclusion. For example, some girls might have a sleepover where another girl is not invited. They tag the missing girl on their fun photos and banter to make sure she feels the sting of missing out. It’s mean. It’s subtle. And boy does it hit the mark.
  • Competition for cool can become gruelling. Photos have to be just so. Memes must be edgy. Kids can get so wrapped up in the responses of their following that they fret over the number of likes for each photo. If a post fails to generate a like-fest and the subsequent dopamine high, they feel the burn of humiliation, a reaction known as Instashame.
  • Enabling Creeps & Crims – Photos snapped on digital devices can embed geolocation data into the photos, which means that anyone with the skill to decode the information (not hard at all) can work out the exact location and street address of where the photo was taken. What if the photo was taken at your house? Or your child’s school? What if the person who just mined  the photo for its geo-data is creepy–or criminal? Geolocation can be turned off on cameras. It’s a good idea to check your kids’ devices regularly to make sure they stay that way.
  • Unsavoury Viewing – Instagram’s terms specify no nudity, partial nudity, or sexual suggestion, but the comments can be vulgar or explicit. Comments are not moderated, so swear words can and do come up, as do references to violence, drugs and alcohol. It depends on who you follow. (It might not be “other kids.” Many parents have been shocked to discover their sweet child has been touched by the Sweary-Fairy’s wand. )
  • Privacy – The default setting on Instagram is public. Users must manually adjust the setting to private. This allows only a user’s followers to see his or her photos, and new followers must be approved. There is an InstagramDirect option, so that users can select up to 15 people to see the post. If your house rules stipulate a Private setting for your teen’s Instagram account, it’s best to check periodically. It can be switched to Public in a blink. Just Google: your child’s username + Instagram. If it’s public, you see a collage of photos. If it’s set to private, you will see this message:

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 7.42.18 pm

  • Personal information – When setting up a new profile, users are asked to provide a first and last name, website URL (some kids use their Kik profile), a photo. This information is public with no other options. A private profile can add email, phone number, gender and birthday. Talk to your kids about what personal information can be shared online.
  • Beware of multiple accounts. This old trick allows kids to let it all hang out on Instagram. Parents are invited to follow the dummy account, which is sweetly and obediently set to private and filled with pictures of kittens, inspirational quotes, and favourite Bible verses. Meanwhile, the “real” account (set to public) might include a series of smouldering selfies that would scandalise Grandma’s puritan sensibilities, or images of unhealthy topics like Pro-Ana thinspiration or self-injury.

More Parent App Alerts

There’s Instagram, done and dusted for you. Our last Parent App Alert looked at Facebook. Up next, SnapChat. Stay tuned! In the meantime, please comment if you have any tips to share about Instagram.



Instagram Logo used in agreement with Instagram Brand Guidelines

13000497_She’s_Gone by Theo Olfers, CC BY-ND 2.0