Well-intentioned parents who've kept their tweens off Facebook are catching on to the workaround: kids are turning to Instagram, the photo-sharing app that may as well be a social network.
As it turns out, just like Facebook, you technically have to be 13 to have an Instagram account. And, just like Facebook, Instagram is more or less a social network, dark sides included. Kids post photos, their followers comment ... and then those not invited to said birthday party or shopping excursion get hurt feelings.
Many adults discovered Instagram as a nifty photo-sharing app that lets you spruce up your photos with cool filters. But it has all the functionality of a social network, which Instagram founder Kevin Systrom says was by design.
Yet, tweens have managed to get around the strict Instagram terms requiring users to be 13 or older to use the service, just like many have done in establishing Facebook accounts. If their iTunes accounts are set up correctly, tweens shouldn't be allowed to download the app, Systrom said. Tweens' iTunes accounts must still be tied to a parent's account -- but many parents are unaware of Instagram's age restriction and its social networking aspects.
Parents have been advised over and over again by educators that tween-age kids are just too young for Facebook. Most are just not mature enough to gauge what's appropriate for posting and to know how to respond to cyberbullying or contacts from strangers or spammers.
But with Instagram, many parents' guards were down. They never really imagined how it would be used.
In addition to taking and posting photos, kids can write notes, take pictures of the notes and post them to Instagram -- which then function much like status updates on Facebook -- with followers offering comments and "likes."
One parent commented, "My fifth-grade daughter and friends purchased the Instagram app with iTunes gift cards. I had no idea that it was a pseudo-Facebook app. We are waiting until she is 13 to get a FB account. I did not know that this app would have her following and being followed by hundreds of people she didn't know ... and posting comments ... it was alarming."