This past year, I have been an avid Instagram user. I love how I can instantly upload my photos, and turn my normal photo, with the use of some filters, into an enhanced, brightened photo. I have enjoyed using this app from my phone, as a way to share my life through photos. Instagram has also been a great tool for networking, connecting, staying in touch with friends, and even making new ones. In addition, I have used my Instagram as a platform to make an impact, and connect people to style their lives within.
As an avid Instagram user, I allowed my daughter who is almost twelve to have an Instagram account. Many of her peers are on Instagram, a couple of cousins, and her parents, so we decided it would be o.k for her as well. However, I made sure that her privacy settings are on and I follow her. While observing her activity on Instagram, it all seemed very innocent. She and her friends post pictures, like one another’s photos and make the odd comment to one another.
In due time, my husband and I noticed that our daughter was becoming a bit more consumed with her Instagram account. Anytime she had free time, her face was buried in her iPod. We looked through her iPod regularly and didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.
On one particular occasion, however, I noticed that the account name she was using wasn’t her real name. When I asked her who this person was, she said she was pretending to be the sister of a band she loves, One Direction, and it was just something called “Role-play”. She explained that it was like “playing house” online.
In that moment, my parenting alarms went off. I looked through her iPod and noticed that her account had a fair amount of followers, whom I wasn’t familiar with. Most of the names that her followers were using were that of famous people and singers.
Evidently, “role-playing” is an online activity where tweens and teens are assuming roles of famous people they admire and using images of them taken off the internet, in turn, creating an online fictional fantasy world. My daughter was very straightforward with what she was doing, and the role she was assuming, so, I reluctantly let her continue. After all, it all seemed very innocent.
Although we let her continue, my parenting alarms kept telling me that something wasn’t right about letting our daughter assume a role of somebody that she wasn’t. Quickly, my warning alarms wouldn’t allow it any longer. It didn’t make any sense to me that my daughter or any of these children for that matter would want to interact in this fictional online life. I told my daughter that she was no longer to engage in Role-play. I could see how attached she was becoming to this fictional life and although it was very innocent, I, on the other hand, could see that this fictional life could easily affect her “real’ life.
We explained to our daughter, how dangerous the online world can be. We told her how we worried that her real emotions could get mixed up with this fake role that she was assuming, and the online friendships that she was forming. We also explained to her who online predators are, and as scary as it sounds, these people who she’s innocently chatting with could be predators, who use these images of popular singers and actors to interact online in inappropriate discussions.
My husband and I let her know, how much we love her and care about her well-being, and that we didn’t think it was safe to continue.
I began to research the hashtag #roleplay and #rp on Instagram and came across thousands and thousands of people using the hashtag and engaging in these fictional, interactive online Instagram stories. Unfortunately, not everyone is innocently assuming the role of Harry Potter or a One Direction singer. I came across many images and under these images the hashtag, #dirtyrp, where people are interacting with ‘dirty” fictional stories and pornographic discussions with one another. It made me sick to my stomach, especially since my daughter was engaging in this “Role-play” and most likely came across these photos and hashtags.
I blamed myself for allowing her to continue with role-playing. I felt like a terrible parent.
However, I am glad that I listened to my parenting warning bells, and did my research.
I’m so disturbed by how many users out there use Instagram images as a basis for pornographic conversations. And, what scares me the most about role-playing on Instagram is that the images being used that I came across in the #roleplay hashtags weren’t necessarily suggestive, however under some of these nonsuggestive images were pornographic discussions.
So, what can we as parents do from here?
Children need to be thirteen years of age to sign up for an Instagram account. I am no longer allowing my daughter to have an Instagram account. Many children have Instagram accounts that are under the age of thirteen. Creating an Instagram account only takes a few steps which include a valid email address and a few questions. Your children can easily create a fake Instagram account. If your tween/teen is using Instagram make sure that your child’s online friends are people they know and trust.
Educate your child on internet safety, internet dangers and what is appropriate to share online.
Most importantly, make sure that your child’s account is private.
If your child is engaging in role-play on Instagram and you are aware of this, making sure that they don’t share anything about their private life, will aid in keeping them safe from predators.
At the end of the day, we will not be able to stop our children from being online. The only thing we can do is make sure that we are constantly monitoring their interactions on social platforms. If I didn’t monitor my daughter’s online interactions than I would have never come across the dangers I found about “role-playing” on Instagram.
The online world can seem like a very safe place for children and teenagers, especially since they are behind a screen in the comfort of their own home. I share this post with you today, in hopes to bring more awareness to parents about some of the potential dangers that are associated with using Instagram.
Please share this post with anybody that you know that has tweens and teenagers who engage online.