I accidently started following my friend’s 10-year-old daughter on Instagram thinking it was my friend’s account and she was simply posting photos of her daughter “Ashley.” I didn’t think 10-year-olds were on this very adult photo sharing mobile app. WRONG. Seizing the opportunity to check up on Ashley and her friends, I’m now in this place of #wishIdidnotjustreadthat.
There’s a lot of over-sharing going on with this young girl and her friends, including which boys they like, their favorite color, who their best friends are as well as TONS of photos of themselves or “selfies.” But more concerning is the publically sharing of their cell phone numbers, school names, photos of the outside of their home where you can see the address, and more.
Making it easy for online predators
It would be very easy for an online predator to find these girls. Almost anybody can easily access their photo and location information at any time. Just the thought of what could happen makes me shudder in fear for their safety…
Within five minutes of “snooping,” I also uncovered a major cry for help “comment” from Ashley’s classmate; a confession as to how difficult life is and how nobody understands her, especially her parents; how depressed and alone she is, and how she is bullied every day. Fortunately, her comments were followed by dozens of supportive posts from her friends or “followers.” But this girl appears not to be alone as Cyberbullying Research Center research indicates 20-25% of U.S. kids are bullied.
I frantically searched for the bullied girl’s most recent post to see if she was OK – and she seems in good spirits… for now. Was this a suicide note? A cry for help? Or is it just “tween” angst, and she’s using Instagram like a diary to describe a temporary over-emotional adolescent moment so common at this age?
Concerns about over-sharing
After breathing a sigh of relief that I went through puberty without cell phones, the Internet, and social media, I called Ashley’s mom and shared my concerns about the over-sharing of private info and about the bullied classmate. But it turns out, Ashley wasn’t supposed to be using Instagram or a smartphone, and secretly created an account on her mom’s iPhone – unbeknownst to her. Ashley no longer has an Instagram account.
Instagram has been in the news a lot lately for changing its not-so-private privacy settings and more. The app appears to be more popular than Facebook for tweens and teens right now. As over 80% of kids in middle and high school have a mobile phone (a majority of those are smartphones with Internet access and apps available to them like Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook, and Facetime), and I can’t stress enough how important it is to teach kids how to be good “digital citizens.”
Here are “5 ways to teach kids to use technology safely” by Lynette Owens, director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families division, to help you grow and nurture your lil’ digital citizens.
I work for Trend Micro and the opinions expressed here are my own.