Instagram is a social media app predominantly used to share photos and videos, although other features include messaging, live-streaming and video chats. Filters and other photo-enhancing tools can be used to customise an image before sharing and the use of hashtags enables users to make connections with the other 1.452 billion users worldwide. Instagram accounts are often highly curated, with images and videos having been heavily edited, and accounts who have large followings are used to influence other users through product marketing and endorsement.

Instagram now sits alongside Facebook, WhatsApp and Messenger under the parent company Meta.  Meta replaces Facebook as the leading company/brand in this group, and the Meta branding is likely to become increasingly visible on all of these apps.  

The minimum age for Instagram users is 13, however, it doesn’t have any rigorous age verification methods.

All accounts set up by users under 16 will default to private. This option will only be offered if users have provided their correct date of birth, showing them as under 16. All other accounts will default to a public setting.

Find out more about age ratings in our ‘A parent and carer’s guide to age ratings of apps and games’.

Instagram is a popular social app based on photo and video sharing that allows young people to connect with their friends and family as well as follow their favourite celebrities, leaders and influencers. It is especially compelling for young people as the number of likes and followers they receive can provide a sense of approval, popularity and acceptance. Instagram ‘Feeds’ essentially act as a highlights reel that amplifies the good and allows users to share the best and most attractive versions of themselves. Although this could be damaging for their well-being and mental health, interacting positively with the app and the people they know through its various features can be very fun and satisfying for young people.

  • The ‘Feed’ is where users can see up-to-date posts from the accounts that they follow.

  • This refers to the accounts a user chooses to be kept up to date with, where the content appears on the user’s ‘Feed’.

  • This refers to the photo or video a user puts on their ‘Feed’ or on ‘Stories’.

  • This abbreviation refers to ‘Direct messages’ which can be sent privately between Instagram accounts.

  • An Instagram ‘Story’ is a photo or video that can be uploaded to your profile and is visible to other users for 24 hours before it disappears. These stories can however be saved as ‘Highlights’ and will then remain visible on their profile for however long the user wants them to be. 

  • The heart-shaped icon below each post allows users to ‘Like’ it, showing the account holder their appreciation for the photo or video.

  • Below each post users can add a comment. This can be in a written format or through the use of icons known as emojis. It is possible to limit comments in the ‘Privacy’ settings menu.

  • This live-streaming feature allows users to share with their followers in real time. When live, they can invite others to join them, co-host a live session or receive comments and emojis.

  • IGTV is a standalone app as well as within Instagram. It allows users to make and share videos up to 1-hour long.

  • This feature allows users to message or share content individually or in groups and allows users to video chat with up to 4 people.

  • The use of a hashtag (#) on a post allows all posts on the same topic by all Instagram users to be grouped together. Users can then follow these hashtags to check for any updates on the topic.

  • Instagram ‘Influencers’ are regular account users who have to ability to influence other users due to their large followings. Influencers are often used to help market goods but must state ‘Ad’ or ‘Gifted’ in their posts when promoting specific brands or items.

  • This stands for ‘real Instagram’ which is often the main account of a user. This account is often highly curated for mass appeal and projects an idealised persona of the account holder.

  • This stands for a ‘fake Instagram’ account which is additional to a main account and may reflect a user’s true self and is only shared with their very close contacts. 

  • A feature which allows users to watch and create 15 second videos set to music or sounds that they can share on their stories or profile. 

One of the most common criticisms of Instagram is that is it very image based. It is a space in which many users spend time using effects and filters to highly edit their photos and videos before sharing, projecting an image of perfection to the world. Such preoccupation with image and status can have a negative impact on users’ well-being and can lead to low self-esteem. Over exposure to highly edited content can also have a negative impact on body image, and constantly scrolling through photos and videos of other people looking great and having fun can be detrimental to mental health. Negative comments placed on users’ photos and videos can further impact on wellbeing, as young people often share their images to seek validation from other users on the platform and delete those that do not achieve many ‘Likes’. Talk to your child about how many Instagram profiles have been curated to appear perfect but are not a true reflection of them or their lives and that validation or lack thereof from ‘Likes’ and followers should not be considered a realistic indication of their beauty and value as a person.

Instagram offers a ‘Sensitive content control’ which allows users to manage the amount of sensitive content they see within the app. Sensitive content is content that goes against Instagram’s recommended guidelines and can include violent or sexually explicit content, as well as content that promotes products or procedures that may be regulated. This control is set to ‘Standard’ by default, so it is recommended increasing this for younger users.

As Instagram is such a popular platform, with over a billion users worldwide, it is possible that your child is making connections with both people they know but also people they don’t. As with other social networks, it is possible for users to set up fake accounts, pretending to be someone else. Encourage your child to question whether they really know the person behind the Instagram profile before making contact.  To protect young people from unwanted contact from adults, Instagram has a feature which prevents adults from sending direct messages to under 18s who do not follow them. Under 16 accounts will not appear in ‘Explore’, ‘Reels’ or ‘Accounts suggested for you’ to adults who are known to Instagram as showing potentially suspicious behaviour. Speak to your child about the risks of connecting with strangers and explain the importance of not sharing any personal or identifiable information on their profile or within chats. Encourage them to tell you if they have been asked more personal questions or to chat privately using a different app.

The Instagram profile that young people create to show the world who they are can be integral to their sense of self. Users can be targeted with negative comments and have their content shared in ways which may humiliate them. This can have a real impact on mental health and well-being. Whilst Instagram has community guidelines in place to limit hurtful contact, bullying and trolling on the platform is not uncommon. To limit exposure to harmful commentary and content, explore the privacy and ‘Limits’ settings on the app. Encourage your child to talk with you if they experience bullying through the platform and ensure they know how to report and block users who behave inappropriately. On each individual post, users can also hide the ‘Like count’ and turn off the comments to prevent others from making negative remarks and limit the pressure to get a high number of likes. These features can be enabled in the advanced settings on Instagram.

The platform has also launched a ‘Safety notices’ feature, which encourages teens to be cautious in conversations with adults they are already connected to. This feature will notify young people when an adult who has been conducting potentially suspicious behaviour is interacting with them in direct messages (DMs) and will give them the option to block or report.

The main commercial risk of Instagram is the use of influencers to promote goods or brands. Whilst influencers must disclose when they have been paid to advertise an item, it can be compelling for young people to want to copy. This can be especially appealing when famous celebrities or influencers that your children already idolise, value and follow persuade their following to purchase a particular item. Speak to your child about the role of influencers and remind them that they have not personally bought all of the goods they promote.

Meta has updated its targeted advertising policy on Instagram, meaning that adverts can only be targeted to users under 18 based on their age and location and not on their gender, interests or activity. Users will also be able to manage their advert topic control within ‘Ad preferences’ in the settings menu.

  • Users under the age of 18 will have the option to make their account private when they first set it up, whilst all other accounts default to public. Young people who choose a public account setting will be sent a notification later highlighting the benefits of a private account. It is worth checking the status of your child’s account.

    To set an account to ‘Private’:

    • Go to your profile by selecting the account button on the bottom left of the screen.
    • Tap the three lines on the top right and select ‘Settings’.
    • Choose the ‘Privacy’ option and toggle the button to ‘Private account’.
  • All account holders can be in control of who comments on their content and can remove comments entirely. Users can also set filters on their comments which will filter out any offensive comments or those intended to bully or harass. Users can also limit their unwanted interactions for a period of time and also manage the amount of sensitive content they are shown on the platform.

    To manage comments (public accounts only):

    • Go to your profile by selecting the account button on the bottom left of the screen.
    • Tap the three lines on the top right and select ‘Settings’.
    • Choose the ‘Privacy’ option and select ‘Comments’.
    • Select who to allow to comment from the options listed:
      • Everyone
      • People you follow and your followers
      • People you follow
      • Your followers
    • You can also select any accounts you wish to block in this section.

    To manage offensive comments:

    • Go to your profile by selecting the account button on the bottom left of the screen.
    • Tap the three lines on the top right and select ‘Settings’.
    • Choose the ‘Privacy’ option and select ‘Hidden words’.
    • Within the ‘Offensive words and phrases’ option, toggle the option to ‘Hide comments’.
    • Work through the remaining settings and amend to suit your preferences.

    To limit unwanted interactions:

    • Go to your profile by selecting the account button on the bottom left of the screen.
    • Tap the three lines on the top right and select ‘Settings’.
    • Choose the ‘Privacy’ option and select ‘Limits’.
    • Work through the listed options to choose who you can limit and for how long.

    To change ‘Sensitive content control’ settings:

    • Go to your profile by selecting the account button at the bottom left of the screen.
    • Tap the three lines on the top right and select ‘Settings’.
    • Choose ‘Account’ then select ‘Sensitive content control’.
    • Select the icon next to ‘Less’ to see less content that you may find upsetting and choose ‘Confirm’.
  • Users can report and block users who may be bothering them or behaving inappropriately on the platform.

    To block a user:

    • Go to the profile of the user you wish to report or block.
    • Select the three dots menu in the top right corner.
    • Choose either of the ‘Report’, ‘Restrict’ or ‘Block’ options from the menu.

    To report a photo or video:

    • Select the photo or video you wish to report either in your feed or the user’s profile.
    • Select the three dots next to the photo or video you wish to report.
    • Choose the ‘Report’ option.

    To report a comment:

    • Select the message bubble icon below the Instagram post to view the comments.
    • Swipe left over the comment (iOS) or tap and hold the comment (Android) that you wish to report.
    • Tap the exclamation icon and choose either ‘Spam’ or ‘Scam’ or ‘Abusive content’.
  • Instagram has several tools available to help you and your child understand and take control of their screen time. The ‘You’ve completely caught up’ feature is automatically enabled, which notifies users when they have seen all of the up-to-date content shared by those they follow, to help avoid endless scrolling. The ‘Take a break’ feature also reminds users to take a break after they have been scrolling for a certain amount of time.

    To set daily time reminders:

    • Go to your profile by selecting the account button on the bottom left of the screen.
    • Tap the three lines on the top right and select ‘Settings’.
    • Select the ‘Your activity’ option and choose ‘Time’ from the top menu.
    • Choose the ‘Set daily time limit’ option.
    • Choose an amount of time and then tap ‘Done’.

    To enable ‘Take a break’:

    • Go to your profile by selecting the account button on the bottom left of the screen.
    • Tap the three lines on the top right and select ‘Your activity’.
    • Choose the ‘Time spent’ option and scroll down to ‘Set a reminder to take breaks’.
    • Select a time from the listed options and select ‘Turn on’.

    To change notification settings:

    • Go to your profile by selecting the account button on the bottom left of the screen.
    • Tap the three lines on the top right and select ‘Settings’.
    • Choose the ‘Notifications’ option and toggle the ‘Pause all’ option.
    • Select a time from the options given. When the time is up, notifications will return to their normal settings.

    To manage activity status:

    • Go to your profile by selecting the account button on the bottom left of the screen.
    • Tap the three lines on the top right and select ‘Settings’.
    • Scroll down to ‘Activity status’ and toggle off the ‘Show activity status’ option.

Instagram is a popular platform and when used responsibly, it can be enjoyable. Remind your child that most of the content posted is staged to look its best and does not reflect real life.

Meta has created a dedicated Teen privacy centre to help teen users manage their privacy on all Meta platforms.

Meta has published a new parents guide for Instagram that provides information on the latest safety tools and privacy settings.

Instagram has a dedicated Family Centre to help families navigate online experiences together.