I recently did a breakout session at Orange Conference on the topic of social media in middle school. Here are the notes if you’re interested in knowing more about it. It was a basic breakout going over the things a parent or leader should keep in mind when thinking about the apps and tech a young teen is using on a daily basis. It’s our role to introduce them to the ocean and help them learn to swim on their own–regardless of the size of the waves.

Humans are all about app diversification and we’ll likely never be able to keep up with the the constant changes or know every next trendy thing. What we can do is help kids and teens by knowing what they are using and  becoming aware of the potential drawbacks and dangers of the tools in their hands. In many cases we are the floaties as they are learning to swim. I’m for technology because it’s the language kids speak–it’s the language of the world we live in.

One microblogging app we looked at together was Instagram. It’s a favorite of mine. It’s fun. I enjoy using it creatively to capture life’s moments.

It’s definitely a cool way to creatively post photos, share ideas, connect with friends, and interact using 15 second videos. Overall it’s a pretty safe app, because profiles can be kept private, with a few simple steps. (Key words, simple steps.)

What isn’t private are the hashtag lists that make photos visible to the public and if location information is shared with the photo, that information also becomes public knowledge.

Here’s the “ouch” of this post.

I just taught this information four days ago.

I know the drawbacks.

Yet, when my little girl hacked my phone on Sunday and took a cute selfie with a pink mustache I wanted to share it. Why? Because I love her. Because I think she is funny. Because in a lot of ways I see how much she is like me. She’s so special and I wanted to capture her silly serious face in her hashtag album (that I created years ago). I wanted to remember the moment.

Except that little album, isn’t just for me. It’s for everyone to see.

How did I forget that, even though I just taught that! How have I overlooked this even though my husband and I have talked about this? (#arrested)

Today, when I opened my account I noticed that a random person had tagged another random person in the comments of her photo. When I looked at the content of their profiles it upset me. I didn’t know them. They didn’t seem to have any connection with me at all. The content on their walls was odd. How did they see the photo????

Then I remembered, it was the hashtag. They must be following her hashtag. It only takes one photo to lead anyone who wants to see to her album. I like that my close friends have access to her album. I don’t like that random people have access to her album. And, it’s not her choice to be online, it’s mine.

I messed up.  I had put my wide-eyed innocent kiddos in a public hashtag. So many people do this–and I’m not against all of the beautiful wonderful photos that I follow in my feed. But it got real for me today.

(I know that online predators prefer kids who’s eyes make contact with theirs. It’s horrible. But true.)

I deleted the photo and made a decision.

I won’t be posting face forward pics of my kids anymore. And, I won’t be using a hashtags for them.

Because at the end of the day, I love my kids more than likes on Instagram. I love them more than anything. I would throw my phone into a river before I would let them be hurt in any way.

There’s nothing we wouldn’t do to protect them.

Someone once said that teaching is learning twice. I’ve learned twice, three times if you count what I experienced today.

If you’re a parent or a youth leader–someone who adores their kids so much that you post insane amounts of footage of their lives, remember that there are a lot of ways to keep them private and safe. You can set up an Instagram account and approve every follower. Just don’t use hashtags and turn off your location settings. It’s not the most popular thing to do. But necessary if you post photos of kids.

If you are a parent of a teenager–your teen may not like this as much–but work with your kids to make sure their profiles are set to private as well. Over time, they will mature and be able to make a decision about this on their own. But you’re helping them get there by giving them a safe space online to make decisions at first.

Here’s how to set an Instagram account to private:

  1. Log into the Instagram account
  2. Go to the profile by touching the button in the far right hand corner.  (Icon looks like a rectangle with three lines)
  3. Tap Edit profile
  4. Find “Photos are Private”
  5. Turn Privacy ON
  6. Press Done button (top right corner)

I hope this is helpful and doesn’t scare you. It’s awesome to be informed and be able to make adjustments as we learn together.

None of this is easy. But learning together is beautiful and messy and worth it. Always.

Also, here’s another beautiful post about how Hailey Devine protects her family on Instagram.  She’s how I learned about the whole face and eyes consideration. It’s a great list of things you can do to protect, yet still enjoy the social photo apps you love.

 

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