Is Instagram safe for kids? What parents need to know


With over two billion monthly users, and under the same ownership as its sister app, Facebook, Instagram — a free photo and video sharing site — is a behemoth of a social media platform. 

And, not surprisingly, many of those users are young. Roughly 9% of Instagram users are between the ages of 13 and 17. There is no data for the share of Instagram use for children under the age of 13 because, in order to download an account, you must be 13 years old. 

But that’s with no tangible way of verifying a person’s age. Over more than 2,000 children surveyed in a report from the nonprofit Thorn, 45% of those children who were under the age of 13 had an account on Instagram. That’s problematic, says Titania Jordan, chief parenting officer for Bark Technologies and author of “Parenting in a Tech World. 

“For younger kids, Instagram definitely isn’t a good idea,” she explains. “Not only are they technically not allowed to use it until they turn 13, it also presents a whole host of danger and distractions.” 

As for teenagers, whether or not Instagram is a “good” thing isn’t necessarily cut-and-dry. She notes that the social media app, while capable of fostering connections, can also be dangerous. “Some kids will use it to keep up with friends and send the occasional message,” she notes. “Others may get wrapped up in seeing what others are doing and spend too much time endlessly scrolling.”

Jordan adds that other children, whether they intend to or not, may access inappropriate content. And that’s where some parental guidance (and possibly intervention) can come into play. Here, four safety concerns in mind when deciding to allow your children to use Instagram. 

“For younger kids, Instagram definitely isn’t a good idea. Not only are they technically not allowed to use it until they turn 13, it also presents a whole host of danger and distractions.” 


1. It’s loaded with scams and hackers on the attack 

Over 95,000 Americans lost $770 million in social media scams in 2021, according to a Federal Trade Commission report. And as Cathy Pedrayes, a tech-parenting expert and author of The Mom Friend Guide to Everyday Safety and Security, explains, Instagram is one of the most ripe platforms for fraud. 

“Most parents are concerned with children talking to strangers on the Internet, and while that’s certainly valid, one safety aspect that often gets overlooked is securing your child’s account,” she says. “It’s important to teach children about scammers and how to spot red flags in posts that are fake or staged.”

Here are some popular scams that Pedrayes and Jordan frequently see targeted toward children:

Someone sends free game cheat codes or upgrades via Instagram’s private messaging feature 

“This can lead to children losing access to their accounts, which may have private photos stored in them or messages. And if they’ve reused passwords on other accounts, they can lose those as well — plus, if it’s linked to any financial accounts, there could be monetary losses,” warns Pedrayes.  

A stranger private messaging a child pretending to be a brand ambassador for a fake brand 

“They’re lured into receiving hefty commissions, but as time goes on, they’ll be asked to front money for various expenses. Kids could be especially immune to that type of flattery,” notes Jordan.  

The aforementioned FTC report says that scammers often use crypto currency lures to try to scam folks on social media. “I filter the word ‘crypto’ from the comments section because 99% of the comments with that word are a scam,” Pedrayes notes. 

Fake online stores 

Another alarming note from the FTC report: 45% of money lost on social media in 2021 was due to online shopping scams. Instagram has a feature that easily spotlights shopping ads like other posts within the child’s feed, making fraud posts not as easily discernable. 

As Pedrayes notes above, filtering out words that could be related to a financial scam (like crypto, wallstreetbets, invest, stimulus) can help reduce the number of posts or messages received that are scams. Here’s how to filter them out

But when it comes to scams, Pedrayes notes that a parent’s best bet is often establishing open communication and educating children on the nature of Instagram scams. “The goal is not to encourage sneaky behavior, but instead encourage a relationship with technology that’s safe,” she notes. “It’s sort of like having a teen drive a car for the first time. You can teach them all the rules about road safety and what to do in certain driving scenarios, and in theory they can ignore all of your advice, but we still need to teach them the basics. The same is true with online safety. Before giving them the keys to the digital world, we need to teach them how to navigate it.”

2. Children could become immune to harassment  

Another (more malicious and dangerous) attack from online predators, studies have shown that children experience frequent harassment (often sexual in nature) on Instagram. A 2020 report from the nonprofit Thorn found that 26% of kids surveyed reported having potentially harmful experiences on Instagram, many of those interactions sexual in nature. 

Even more concerning: Those children surveyed were under the age of 13, which is below Instagram’s minimum age requirement. Children between the ages of nine and 17 also reported sexual exploitation from peers and strangers on the Internet, and that harassment increased if they identified as LGBTQ+

Sexual harrassment and exploitation is (obviously) a serious matter. And while educating children on Internet safety is a good precautionary step, according to Jordan, sometimes it helps to enlist the help of additional safety features. 

“The best way to safely and non-intrusively monitor your child’s Instagram will be to use the Bark Phone,” she recommends. “Bark monitors your child’s posts on their account, which includes images, videos and captions, as well as text chats in DMs and searches.” (Here are a handful of other parental control apps and tech tools from Consumer Reports.)

That said, even if you do enlist the help of a monitoring service like Bark, open, honest communication is key, as much of a child’s interaction with others on the app will occur within the private messaging feature — which Jordan says can be tricky. 

“Instagram has a disappearing message/photo feature, which means that inappropriate photos could be sent in DMs,” she explains. “Once a picture is viewed, it can’t be accessed again — unless the other person takes a screenshot, and that can lead to other dangers.” 

In this case, it’s important to observe the nature of the profiles interacting with children — which Pedrayes says you can do easily. “You could always follow your child and stay up-to-date with what they post and who they’re interacting with,” she advises. “Knowing the kinds of things they’re seeing and from whom can give you a better idea of what their Instagram experience is like.”

“Many times, children can get stuck in a loop of posting and eagerly awaiting comments, likes and DMs. This turns Instagram into a major anxiety inducer.” 


3. Instagram can potentially spur anxiety and depression

“In general, social media — and especially Instagram — can contribute to anxiety and depression in kids,” says Jordan. “Many times, children can get stuck in a loop of posting and eagerly awaiting comments, likes and DMs. This turns Instagram into a major anxiety inducer.” 

It’s important to note, however, that the data shows a correlation — not actual causation — between depression and social media use. A 2017 study noted a connection between smartphone use rising among school-age children in 2010 and an uptick in depressive symptoms. Suicide rates (but only for girls) skyrocketed by 65% over that period. 

“Kids who scroll the app and see the lives of others that may include fabulous trips, beautiful adventures and fancy shopping hauls can contribute to feelings of lower self-worth and even depression,” Jordan added. 

Again, Instagram and social media may not be the ultimate cause for depressive symptoms — but it could certainly be a kickstarter. Be on alert for signs of depression in older children, which might include a sudden drop in performance at school, increased isolation and different sleeping and eating patterns, according to the Child Mind Institute. If they are exhibiting worrisome symptoms, find a licensed mental health care provider

Like many social media platforms, Instagram can be a purveyor of disordered eating content, says Jordan. But there’s a major difference that makes Instagram particularly more dangerous: It’s based on lifestyle images. 

“Instagram relies on curated images,” Jordan says. “And hashtags can expose users to potentially problematic content, like #thinspo or #thinspiration that encourages disordered eating in the pursuit of the so-called ‘ideal’ body.” (You can filter these out, too.)

And while Jordan says that Instagram often removes these hashtags, users often find ways around those limitations and create new hashtags. Plus, seeing hyper-warped, Facetuned images from prominent celebrity figures might be enough to spur an unhealthy relationship with one’s body. 

A 2017 study found a connection between Instagram use and developing orthorexia nervosa, or an obsession with healthy eating. Another 2018 study noted that kids who spent more time on social media (particularly those who scrolled through appearance-focused images and videos) were more likely to have a negative body image and/or disordered eating patterns. 

Here’s a tidbit parents spotlight should their child believe that each image coming across their feed portrays an accurate representation of bodies: 2021 research from the journal Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigative Dermatology noted that one-quarter of participants in a 500-person study edited more than 40% of their photos posted social media to clear skin lesions and other perceived imperfections. (Granted, while the study focuses solely on skin, it can be beneficial to display how widespread photo editing can be.)

The bottom line: Keep a watchful eye — but know there’s a lot that can happen beyond your supervision

As Jordan reiterates, it’s possible to track a child’s Instagram use with various technology tools — but establishing communication and trust is key. 

“​​It’s true that Instagram has rolled out their supervision feature in the Family Center section of the app. It’s filled with all sorts of good-intentioned tools like time limits and screen time reports,” she says. “But supervision can be turned off at any time by a child — no questions asked. The parent can’t turn it on again unless the child agrees to it again.”

In lieu of total control, Jordan says parents can consider a tech contract — a tool Bark recommends. She explains, “For example, if a child turns off Instagram supervision, the result could be having the phone taken away, or Instagram deleted.”

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