Ah, Instagram. Pretty pictures of food, kids and pets. What's not to love about this visual app?
Nothing, if you're like me with lots of fine, upstanding and mature friends. And by mature, I don't mean old. I just mean responsible, inoffensive adults.
That answer changes though, when you start talking about Instagram and kids.
Instagram, like pretty much anything on the Internet, can be used for better or for worse. In the hands of teens and tweens (or mean or perverted adults), it can get ugly.
Two parents in Texas are suing the kids who set up an Instagram account to cyberbully their teen daughter, claiming libel. They're also suing the kids' parents for negligence.
Is suing a bit much?
"We're being super aggressive about it, because this behavior really needs to stop," Tej Paranjpe, the Houston-based attorney for parents Reymundo Shellie Esquivel, told Yahoo Shine. "It's really an issue of principle."
In a segment on Today, Shellie Esquivel asked, "How many children is it going to take to commit suicide, to kill themselves, to hurt themselves … because of bullies out there? And the parents don't want to take responsibility."
In addition to cyberbullying, there are other concerns, including predators and privacy issues.
Sexual predators have used Instagram to contact kids. They create false identities online. They also use Instagram in combination with other apps like Kik to make contact and establish online relationships with kids.
To up the creepiness factor, Instagram is happy to reveal your location.
When I joined Instagram a few months ago (I know, I know, I'm behind the times), the app was eager to suggest friends who live near me. Up popped a ton of my daughter's schoolmates. On a map, showing right where they live.
When I asked a parent of one of the kids, she shrugged and mentioned that there was an issue in the junior high with an anonymous account spreading nasty rumors about kids. Apparently the identity of the user was revealed when someone used the location feature to determine the street name and then went through the school directory. Turns out only one student lived on that street. And now there's an issue with that individual being bullied.
There's enough drama in middle school or junior high already. Instagram just makes it worse.
Which leads me to a really important point. Instagram requires users to be 13 years old to have an account. That's so, as a company, Instagram can comply with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act which is a federal law.
Parents need to stop lying for their kids or being okay with their kids lying about their age to get an account.
Sending a tween or teen the message that it's okay to lie online is a really, really dangerous precedent. If it's one that you're willing to set, at least monitor your child's behavior. You need to be where they are online. Have an Instagram account, follow them, check what they're doing, see with whom they are associating. Ask, "Do you know this person in real life? How?"
Instagram is great for grown ups but it's a whole different ball game when it comes to kids. Be involved, and keep them safe.
Although she’d like to be taller and have more time to dive into good books, Shannan is awfully happy with her life in the western suburbs, where she moved after a decade of living on the north side of the city. She blogs about parenting a tween at Tween Us on ChicagoNow and at Families in the Loop.
See more of Shannan 's stories here.