Instagram Unmasked: A Teen Explains Why It’s All the Rage
by Valerie Aber
I made my Instagram account when I was in 10th grade, bored one day over spring break. At first I didn’t see the purpose – who needed to spend time taking and scrolling through cell phone-quality pictures of food and flowers? But then I realized the app could be used as a photo-diary of sorts.
My Instagram profile is set to private. There are random “selfie” shots of my face and lots (LOTS) of pictures of food. There are pretty pictures of clouds and tempting pictures of Starbucks cups. And there are pictures of homework assignments scattered about – pictures of large textbooks cracked open in front of my laptop screen and pictures of papers covering the floor. (What color was my carpet again?)
You can actually learn a lot about someone just by looking at their Instagram profile. It’s more than just random pictures of things – depending on how personal they get with it, it can show their interests, ambitions, hopes and dreams. It can show the little things that make them happy, whether that means they won a special award or even that their parents ordered in Chinese for the night.
But many teens don’t always account for the power that these images can hold. I’ve also seen Instagram used for cyberbullying. With today’s smartphones, it’s easy to screenshot text messages and share them to the world.
One of my good friends was targeted in a comment on someone else’s screenshot texts – another girl had claimed she was persistent and annoying because she had sent her two or three messages asking “Hey, what’s up?” after not having heard from her in weeks. Whether such acts were “persistent and annoying” is beside the point – the commenter was being entirely rude and immature for saying such things about my friend to so many people, and the original poster was wrong for publicly sharing whoever’s text messages were being shared. The entire thing was wrong on so many levels.
Of course, all of these things could be just as easily done through other social networking services, like Facebook. But most teens realize that their parents, family members, and even potential employers and colleges can view their Facebook profiles. On the other hand, not many of those groups would probably think to check an Instagram right away. So, this leads to many of us feeling like Instagram is our own private little world, one where we get to speak our minds with little consequence. Which, as always, is false.
Instagram shouldn’t be blocked, but it should definitely be monitored, at least to some extent. Because if a parent really knows their child… well, they never really do as well as they’d like to believe they do. Some of us keep secrets. Except that they’re never really secrets, unless the people who are exposed to them are too ignorant to listen. And ignorance never mixes well with good parenting.
Parents should at least be mindful of those accounts that their child is “following,” and be willing to discuss with their kids anything they might see on there. It’s not that the parents should be constantly watching with hawk eyes – please, don’t ever do this – but they should remember to be open. If you’re a parent, remind your children: “Though you’d be in huge trouble if you ever posted anything bad, I’ll never punish you for accidentally coming across an inappropriate picture on your feed. If you find anything that makes you uncomfortable, I’m willing to talk with you about it, and I promise that I won’t negatively judge you if you do so.”
Make sure your kids know that no matter what button they might press, there is no such thing as true privacy when it comes to technology. Looking at this in a more positive light, you should actually encourage your kids to post personal achievements or things that make them happy.
As long as their settings only allow for people who they know to view their photos, this can provide for not only a safe experience, but also one that helps them to grow in a good way, one that allows them to be viewed to the outside world as someone lovely and bright.
Including, perhaps, college admissions officers. I just hope they like Frappuccinos.
Oh, and to sum everything up with a quote from Roald Dahl:
“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
Valerie Aber is a high school junior who lives in Florida. She is active in the National Honor Society and her school’s debate team.