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“I have my own Instagram account,” an 8-year-old boy
casually mentioned while scrolling through his iPod Touch.
“You do?” I respond, genuinely surprised. I’ve spent the
last year with older neighborhood boys tromping in and out of my house, and so
I’ve been privy to just about everything my 6-year-old boy could morph into next—and yes,
I am well aware of how techy the 7-and-up kids are these days.
But still: Instagram? The app with a 13+ age requirement and
a reputation for racy selfies?
The boy gave me his handle and so I looked him up on my own
well-used IG page. His account was set to private. Phew, I thought. But wait
a minute, this can’t be right.
“You have 314 followers?” I looked up, eyes wide. “How can
you possibly know 300 people?”
He nods, smiling. Apparently everyone in his school (elementary school, remember) is on
“I’m pretty well-known in my school,” he shrugs off, with
just a glint of pride.
I’d say so. With over 300 followers and a feed that
follows almost 700 people, that’s quite the connection for a third-grader.
As it turns out, that kid wasn’t exaggerating. I took the
conversation to other moms, gently asking if they’ve heard about this new
Instagram trend among pre-tweens; I opened the topic up on Facebook; I picked
the brain of every child who walked in my door with an iPod Touch.
And wouldn’t you know it, Instagram has fully infiltrated
our elementary schools, specifically around the fifth-grade mark. If a fifth-grader doesn’t have Instagram, “all of his friends” do. Don’t
believe me? Ask around your neighborhood. See how many 9-year-old kids are
using “Instagram” as a verb.
I can’t imagine the psychological torture of walking into elementary school knowing most of your class has seen something really embarrassing and has also “liked” it.
Third grade—that’s the year I was picked on by a group of
pigtail-pulling boys. The very next year, those same boys were leaving gifts
for me on my desk during recess. (The drama! The angst!) The terms “boyfriend”
and “girlfriend” started to be used. “Cliques” emerged. I was part of one, and
we were momentarily divided when my closest friend wrote another girl’s
initials on the bathroom sink with soap, along with a boy classmate’s initials.
The girl was furious, passive aggression ensued; within two days, all was
But you know what? Soap washes away. Guess what doesn’t.
If you think back to your later elementary school years, can
you imagine those momentary crushes, silly thoughts and social immaturity
captured for 314 people to see, to “like,” to comment on with their equally
immature opinions? We already know that third-, fourth- and fifth-graders are
dealing with lunchroom politics and mean-girl behavior, but now they have
A friend of mine, blogger Jeanne Sager, said that a young
girl was posting “nasty things” about her 10-year-old cousin, even though her
cousin didn’t have Instagram herself. She still knew about it; it still stung.
I can’t imagine the psychological torture of walking into elementary school
knowing most of your class has seen something really embarrassing and has also
“liked” it. It’s like a "naked at school dream" for the digital age.
“Many of my Instagram followers are little girls I used to
coach [at gymnastics],” said my 26-year-old sister, who has worked with
elementary-school children for years. “And I see their pages, who they follow,
and sometimes it’s alarming. I know it fuels a lot of fights and drama between
10- to 13-year-old girls. It’s just added stress from being so ‘connected’ all
the time. It can be draining and cause a lot of anxiety even. Not to mention
the inappropriate things right at their fingertips.”
Really think about whether you want your kids to define their self-worth with the amount of “likes” on a picture or by the number of followers.
Yes, that’s another thing—ALL OF THE PHOTOS ON INSTAGRAM.
Even if you closely monitor who your child is following, mandating “only
real-life friends,” one of his buddies could “like” a porn star’s photo, which
would show up on your child’s feed, thus giving him access. We’re talking about
prepubescent boys, right? Nothing is stopping them from typing “booty” into the
search bar and—go on, try it out; see what kinds of pages come up.
It’s not only the explicit images, but the disturbing ones
too. My sister has seen girls as young as 10 years old “liking” #thinspiration
photos and even self-harm quotes. No
privacy setting will shield them.
Parents, please pay attention. Recognize that Instagram has
a 13+ rule, and there’s good reason for it. If your kid already has an account,
get your own account and understand how it works—check out their followers
and following, and look at the pictures they’re “liking.” Put up limits. Talk
about this stuff. And really think about whether you want your kids to define
their self-worth with the amount of “likes” on a picture or by their number of
followers. It’ll happen eventually, but does it have to be so soon?