SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 12, 2013

On Instagram and spending April vacation with teens

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap
Dr. Kate Roberts

---- — Q: My 10-year-old son started using Instagram. He and his friends post and follow pictures. I was shocked when I saw that he has 200 followers and most he doesn’t even know. Help, this feels out of control.

A: As a parent, I empathize with you. Children’s access to social media does feel out of control. Instagram seems innocent enough, and yet it’s social media and not for children under 13. Even for teens, it’s questionable; they lack the judgment to know what’s right and wrong when it comes to posting comments and pictures. What seems cute or funny to them is not always appropriate or acceptable to others. How many times have we seen adults publicly apologizing for making off-color comments online? Allowing your child or teenager access to Instagram or other social media apps before they have the maturity to handle it makes them more vulnerable than they already are.

Here’s what you need to know:

Instagram is social media and, like Facebook, is meant to be restricted to users ages 13 and older with parental guidance.

Photos uploaded on Instagram can, by default, be viewed by anyone, anywhere.

Sharing the photo location is also an option, which allows followers to know your child’s location.

Instagram can be and has been used for cyberbullying.

When your son uses Instagram (or any social media), add privacy restrictions, follow his account, and learn how he portrays himself by reading his posts and viewing his pictures.

Remind him often that his posts can’t be taken back once out there in the world. Messages remain and can make a lasting impression.

Keep ahead of him regarding social media; learn about the social media he is asking to access. Even if you don’t intend to allow it, learn about it and the risks associated with it.

Tweens and teens can’t get enough of Instagram because it excites their creativity when they share cool pictures, they feel connected to celebrities’ posts, and it provides them with a sense of worldwide community.

ABC News reported that some colleges review applicants’ social media pages to learn about them. Parents need to be knowledgeable, informed and have a strong position on their child’s use of social media. They need to advocate for their child’s emotional and physical safety from the time they first ask about social media until they are independent adults.

Parenting tip: Confident, aware parents can decide when and how their children will access social media. In addition to the already stated concerns, psychologists have a growing concern that people are developing an over-reliance on being connected at all times, and may even experience “withdrawal” when they’re not “connected.” Parents need to be cautious about unknowingly promoting this habit in their children.

Q: April vacation is here, and I have taken time off to spend with my two teenage girls. Their idea of a vacation is spending their time on Facebook and Skyping with their friends. What can I do?

A: Even though your girls are teenagers, as their parent, you have influence over how the vacation goes. Make a plan with them that includes time for their social life and for family time. Set a routine, because even teens benefit from structure. Here are some options:

Don’t allow them to sleep in past 8:30.

Start each day with exercise, a walk outside, a class at the YMCA, do something that gets you moving together.

Have a list of possible activities that include things like visiting a museum, walking the Freedom Trail, shopping at their favorite Boston stores. Ask for their input, and then each of you pick one or two.

Cleaning out unwanted items at home and donating them or volunteering at the local food pantry by serving, cooking or stocking food provide meaning and bring your family closer to the community.

Include time for games like your favorite board or card games.

Plan and make a large meal together and for a group of family and individual friends.

Include your girls’ friends in a couple of activities while stressing the balance of family time and friend time.

While they may not be initially enthusiastic, they’ll come around if you are persistent. You can compromise regarding Facebook and online access. However, recognize that the more they engage, the harder it will be to set limits.

Parenting tip: Your question shows your desire to experience life with your girls; don’t pass up the opportunity the vacation offers. Create positive memories and be strong when they show resistance, they’ll follow your lead.

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Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach; her focus is helping parents help their children. Look for her upcoming column on what parents need to know about Minecraft. Send her questions on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Dr-Kate-Roberts/470742712988070 or via email at kate@katerobertsandassociates.com.