Pinterest and Instagram, Okay for Kids?

Recently, moms of my daughter’s friends have come to me to ask about some social sites and apps that their girls are asking permission to use. Ten year old girls are social creatures — and love snapshots and and cool scraps and pinboards, so it should be no surprise that they are asking about Pinterest and Instagram.

But are Pinterest and Instagram appropriate for kids — especially girls?

The terms of service for both sites state clearly that users must be 13 years or older.  So for parents disinclined to allow kids to participate in social media, or for parents that think that rules are rules, that may be enough to end the conversation with your tween. You are excused.

For the rest of you:

What is Pinterest?

A very well-designed, online take on a pinboard. Users create “boards” with themes like “Yummy Foods” or “Vampires I Crush On” and then post to those spaces photos uploaded from their computer, or images they come across online — posted to the site through the use of a simple browser widget, and then packaged by the site into “pins.” Like most social sites, you can choose to “follow” a person or a board in order to be notified if additional content is added. The site is free to use.

The clarity of the design and the visual nature of the shared content explains the appeal — especially to tween girls. They love to collect and arrange information  in exactly this way. You can find an example of this scrapbooking in most girls’ rooms. Tween girls also grow up. Which explains why the site has exploded to over 10 million monthly unique users in a matter of months.

Is it for kids?

Simply put, no.

If the user agreement isn’t enough to deter you, consider this: all content posted to Pinterest is public, viewable by all other users of the site. You can restrict Google’s ability to index the posted content, but that’s about it. This is a public digital corkboard, and kids just aren’t ready for a completely public forum that trades in images.

Alternatives:

Glogster. This free site allows kids to create online “posters” to which they can affix pictures, images, even audio and video files. The user interface is very simple to use, and some kids may even be familiar with it — Glogster ED is very popular with school systems as a way to introduce kids to online sharing. Best of all, Glogster has a “private Glog” option that allows you to make the content available only to friends and family through the sharing of a link.

What is Instagram?

This free app has been around for a lot longer than Pinterest (in internet terms, anyway), though it still seems to be gaining ground in terms of popularity. Also photo-based, this app works with the camera on a smart phone (I’ll leave the issue of tweens with smart phones for another post), adding distinctive filters and color saturations, allowing even amateurs to create arty shots of the world around them. In addition, the app has a social function, posting the photos to the Instagram “feed” of those that follow you on the app, and to other social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and more.

Is it for kids?

Maybe. We talked about the ToS, right? Nobody under 13. And as parents, we know that sharing any digital information, especially images, has to be approached very carefully, especially by girls. Yet there is an argument to be made for teaching kids how to use social media — to share their experiences and take on the world online — and this app has a way of encouraging people of being creative about it. I could see this app sparking an interest in photography, visual art and graphic design.

It also has some basic privacy features. One, actually. In default mode, any Instagram user can follow any other Instagram user and have instant access to all the photographs that user has posted. Not good. There is an option to require user approval of followers (tap the settings tab on the apps home page, slide “photos are private” to “on”). When “photos are private” potential followers must be approved before gaining access to your photos. By following your child, you can monitor the kinds of photos they are posting.

Overall, these are pretty weak parental controls. The follower approval process rests in the hands of the kids, so a parent can’t easily monitor who the child is sharing photos with. While, there is some appeal to this app, I can’t recommend if for kids. Use with extreme caution.

Alternatives?

Deploying filters and effects is more easily done all the time. Mac’s iPhoto comes loaded with filters and effects that are easy to apply. It requires the additional step of retrieving the photos from the phone, but the security of managing the photos on the computer is a plus. There are plenty of photo editing apps in the app store that don’t emphasize sharing features.  BeFunky Photo Editor Pro is just one example.