South Florida Parents Monitor Teens' Instagram Accounts

Teens warned to not post personal info on Instagram

A quick search for the hashtag “selfie” on Instagram, the increasingly popular photo-sharing site owned by Facebook, reveals some baby-faced pre-teens. Some flash braces when they smile.

That word, which refers to a picture you snap of yourself, has some South Florida parents cringing.

"Something that may appear funny or innocent could be either interpreted inappropriately by anyone else or even worse, somebody could figure out a way to find them,“ said Liz Lawson, whose daughter Sammy regularly posts photos to the site.

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The 13-year-old has had an account for about a year. Her princess-themed phone cover reveals she’s still a kid, but her parents know she’ll soon be on the cusp of becoming a young adult. For her, it’s about self-expression. It isn’t just selfies. She posts photos of her family’s day at the beach and on Mother’s Day, a photo with mom.

Instagram’s terms of use state you must be at least 13 to use the service. Still, Sammy says 85 percent of her friends - some not teens yet — have access to Instagram. Their parents may be none-the-wiser.

"I don’t think they know what Instagram is or that their kid has one,” said Sammy.

Alina Gastesi-De Armas, a licensed mental health counselor based out of Weston, said parents don’t have a choice when it comes to apps. They need to keep up with the technology, because predators always will.

"Strangers are looking for your children. They are experts at finding what your children are doing so they can get into their world,” Gastesi-De Armas said.

She warned to make sure children are careful with Geotagging. If activated, the optional GPS tag can reveal your child’s frequented location, even his or her current one. She added that there are not so obvious bits of information that can reveal too much to strangers.

By doing a quick search of hashtags, NBC 6 found a ticket stub that revealed more than just location information. The photo of the stub, posted by a local 7th grader, also displayed the time and date of the movie she was watching.

Gastesi-De Armas said even an emblem on a uniform, and usernames that are not pseudonyms can be used to try to track your child down.

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Sammy’s account is private and she is not allowed to share information about her location. Her mom has full access and performs random checks not just of her account, but she also looks at what her friends are posting.

"And if I don't like it she needs to delete it and do it in front of me," Lawson said.

Sammy said she sometimes refreshes her account every 30 seconds. Some of her posts even make her mother laugh. She has so far proven herself responsible enough to have one.

"You can use it until you prove to us that you can't handle it," Lawson said.

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