Undercover mom on Instagram

One of her aliases is CupcakePuppy44. That’s parent, author, and former teacher Sharon Duke Estroff’s Instagram handle. She created a join account with her 10-year-old after some stonewalling and some external investigation (with kids, fellow parents, and psychologists), not to mention a certain amount of hounding by her daughter, who – not unlike other 4th- and 5th-graders – indicated she was “the only poor, deprived soul in a school full of Ugg-wearing, iPhone-toting, whatevering children.”

Sharon – who wrote a wonderful series of guest posts here in NetFamilyNews as Undercover Mom in Club Penguin, Stardoll.com, Poptropica, and BarbieGirls.com in 2009 – is as thoughtful as ever about kids in mobile apps. Don’t miss her thorough investigation into Instagram for Scholastic Parent & Child magazine, with three main points called “lessons” that a lot of parents suspect but would probably like to hear more on (she also offers four brief safety “rules” for underage Instagram use which make a lot of sense). What I love about Sharon’s approach is the balance that parents deserve: She provides both the upsides and the downsides, and she’s not out to scare anybody. That’s real child and parent advocacy.

Some how-to’s from our own Instagram guide

Our own Parents’ Guide to Instagram at ConnectSafely.org has a little more detail on what to do if stuff comes up. Sharon mentions hearing from a 9-year-old named “Hannah” that her “first follower was this weird old man” (that would be only one kind of “stranger” any user with a public account could encounter, many also being friends of friends of peers). Sharon asked her what she did, and Hannah said she “deleted him” but he “came back two days later.” In a situation like that, we tell parents in our guide, you can…

“Block someone if necessary. If someone’s harassing you, such as repeatedly tagging you in photos you don’t like, you can block them so they can’t tag you or mention you in comments. They also won’t be able to see your profile or search for your account. To block a user, go to his or her profile and select the Menu button on the top right side, then select ‘Block User.’ (Android users, go to the profile and tap the three small squares, then select ‘Block User.’)”

Relieved but conflicted

We also tell parents how people can untag themselves, manage their profiles, think about privacy, and be a good friend in the app. And we have some closing thoughts about parenting on the mobile platform at the end (page 6 of our short-and-to-the-point guide).

As for Sharon’s undercover experience (the first time I’ve known her to go in cognito in an app), sensible as always, she – probably like most of us – “was left relieved … but also conflicted. The democratic platform of social media means that the ability to censor material or share it on an age-appropriate basis
is nearly impossible.” I appreciated her wisdom in concluding that, though it’s tempting to say no altogether to social media, “as our children grow, our ability to control their interaction with technology shrinks. The best we can do, as parents, is be there, strapped in beside our kids, making the journey down this uncharted digital road together.”

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