To protect its youngest users, Instagram has released new features that address screen time management, exposure to sensitive content, privacy settings, and more.

If you're parenting a teenager, it's inevitable that you'll need to deal with social media platforms like Instagram. At least 72 percent of American teens ages 13 to 17 use the photo-sharing app. And while Instagram has plenty of benefits for young people (such as opportunities to develop social skills and connect with like-minded individuals), it also raises safety concerns for parents. Moms and dads might worry, for example, that their teenager is exposed to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, or interactions with ill-meaning strangers. 

An image of a phone with the Instagram logo on it in a pocket.
Credit: Getty Images.

Thankfully, Instagram recognizes these concerns, and they're taking steps to protect their youngest users. "We've been invested in teen well-being for years now," says Vaishnavi J, Head of Safety & Well-Being at Instagram. "We're always iterating on our products—both with feedback from parents and teens, but also from experts," such as advisory groups of child development professionals, parenting experts, and family psychologists.  

On December 7, Instagram announced new products and features to enhance safety for teenagers. Keep reading to learn about them—and remember that you must be 13 years or older to use the app.

Tools for Parents and Guardians

Instagram Parent Features
Credit: Courtesy of Instagram

"Parents and guardians know what's best for their teens, so we plan to launch our first tools in March to help them guide and support their teens on Instagram," said Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, in a December 7 blog post. Here are the new features for parents.

  • Instagram is launching an educational hub with tips and tutorials, which should make it easier for parents to talk to teens about their social media usage. 
  • Parents and guardians will be able to see how much time their teenager spends on the app, and they can also set screen time limits.
  • When teenagers report someone on Instagram, they have the option to notify their parents. This could spur conversations about internet safety.

Safety Upgrades for Teens

Instagram Nudging Feature
Credit: Courtesy of Instagram

Some safety features already exist for young people on Instagram; for example, they automatically get signed up for a private account, which means only followers can view their content. Also, adults can't directly message teens who aren't following them. Instagram is currently testing new features that will further protect teen users, with plans to implement them next year. 

  • With new default privacy settings, people won't be able to "tag" teenagers or mention them in posts and stories, unless the teen follows them. They also can't include a teen's content in "Reels Remixes or Guides by default when they first join Instagram," said Mosseri in the blog post.
  • Thanks to enhanced sensitivity control features, teens will be exposed to less "potentially harmful or sensitive content" throughout the platform's various hubs. These includes Explore, Search, Reels, Hashtags, and Suggested Accounts.
  • Finally, Instagram will recognize if teens are dwelling on a certain topic, and in response, the app will suggest checking out other topics. This technique is called "nudging."

"Take a Break" Feature

Instagram Take a Break Feature
Credit: Courtesy of Instagram

One of the biggest features in Instagram's update is called "Take A Break." It's launching in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia on December 7. Here's how it works: After scrolling for a certain period of time, Instagram will encourage users to take a break from the app. It will also suggest setting reminders for future breaks, as well as provide tips for resetting and refreshing. Teenagers will learn about these features through notifications.

"You will go in and set a timer for yourself that's 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes. And once you set that reminder for yourself, you'll get a full-screen reminder to leave the app with those expert-backed tips," explains Vaishnavi J. This features helps teenagers with time management, and it allows them to better control their social media usage.

Digital Footprint Management

Instagram Digital Footprint Feature
Credit: Courtesy of Instagram

As parents know, teenagers don't always think through their social media posts. In January, Instagram will release a new feature that lets them control what shows up online. Users will be able to "bulk delete" photos, videos, and previous comments and likes. "While available to everyone, I think this tool is particularly important for teens to more fully understand what information they've shared on Instagram, what is visible to others, and to have an easier way to manage their digital footprint," said Mosseri. 

The Bottom Line

While Instagram's new features help teens stay safe online, it's important for parents to get involved too. "Every parent knows their teen better than we ever could," says Vaishnavi J. Use this knowledge to understand how your child is using the platform, and have conversations about internet safety accordingly.