How Your Tween’s Private Photo Could Go Viral (And Why Private Accounts Aren’t The Answer)

What parents need to know about Instagram is a hot topic. Is Instagram safe for kids? Yes, but tweens and teens and parents and teachers must know these facts.

When my husband Jason and I decided to give our daughter a phone and an Instagram account, these gifts came with a string: she agreed to having many, many (so very many) open conversations with us about using social media kindly.

The first time we sat down together to discuss the kinds of photos she may share on her account, thinking about who may see–and share–her photos once they’re online, she gave me the one-liner that you, too, may have heard before: “But it’s a private account. Only my friends can see my pictures and they would never do anything like that.”

Right there and then, I showed her how very big that misconception is. Here’s what I did in three steps and in less than one minute:

1. I went to one of her friend’s who I follow (private) account, clicked into one of her photos, and screen capped it by pressing exactly two buttons.

2. Then I went into my own Camera roll and there was that (private) photo saved into my stream.

3. I clicked the Share button on the bottom left corner of my screen and these were just some of the choices that popped up for me: I could share that (private) photo via text, email, Twitter, and Facebook.

If I had shared that photo, each of my followers on each of these platforms could have done the exact same thing. (To see exactly how to do this, take a look at this article on Digital Trends.)

What I wanted to show my daughter is that really, really simply and quickly that private photo had the potential to be seen by way more than the 100 approved followers this girl had on her account.

I, of course, didn’t share her photo, and you might be thinking that your kids’ friends would never share it either. But do you remember being a tween and a teen? Do you remember being impulsive and all-knowing and self-centered in the developmentally appropriate ways? Do you remember not always thinking things through?

Our kids aren’t all that different than we were at this age. But their access to social media makes their impulsive decisions capable of being a little bigger, a little louder, have a little more impact, a bigger punch, if you will.

They’re savvy, really savvy, and they know how to do these things, it seems almost instinctively at times and we, of course, can’t control what everyone who follows our kids on social media will do.

This is why Private accounts and Bully-Proofing our kids aren’t the solutions to bullying–on or off line.

The solutions lie in teaching our kids to first think about the potential reach of their posts, about who could see their photos and words, before they share them.

And second, to make sure that we’re raising the kind of kids who would really would “never do that kind of thing.”

This entire exercise took less than one minute to do with my daughter. I do, and will continue to, revisit it every once in awhile. But in comparison, “Bully-Proofing” programs have been around at least since I started teaching–which has been almost two decades now–and bullying statistics aren’t getting any better.

We have to have direct conversations with our kids about the harm this kind of behavior could do, the feelings this could hurt, the ripples this could cause. We have to help them be the kids who see behavior like this as problematic–to not take part in it and to be the ones to speak up against it.

We have to raise kind kids who will use social media to lift–always.

We have to raise kind kids.

This is why I took lemons–being called fat online–and made lemonade, wrote a book to teach a kids how to be kind online.

And this is why I filled that book, appropriately titled Kindness Wins, with the direct conversations we have to have with our kids and with each other about online kindness. Because as uncomfortable or awkward as these discussions may feel, creating an online space we can feel good about sending our kids (and each other) into is so, so very worth it.

I call creating this change taking lemons to lemonade, the women behind 1000 Voices for Compassion call it Building from Bullying. No matter what we call it, it’s a wonderful way–maybe the only way?–to take what is and make it better. And that, is really what it’s all about.


kindness-wins-cover-smallKindness Wins is available for pre-SALE right now. It’ll stay at this reduced price until its release date, April 7th when it’ll be available in print and on all of the digital choices. To take advantage of the reduced price, you can pre-order Kindness Wins for your kindle or if a kindle isn’t your thing, you can download a FREE kindle reading app right here. Start here: Kindness Wins



1000-speakThe women who brought us 1000 Voices for Compassion are taking on Building from Bullying on March 20th. To add your voice to the conversation, write your story, your thoughts, your heart, and link to it and share it on Friday, March 20th using the hashtag #1000Speak. The link up will be available across several blogs but was inspired by the good hard work that Hasty Words does regularly. Start here: Hasty Words


mean-tweetsAnd as a reminder of how very much our kids need us to have a voice here and to teach them how to be a part of the solution, take a look at this campaign with the slogan: Help spread the word that cyberbullying is no joke. Start here: It’s Funny When Celebs Read Mean Tweets. Here’s What Happens When Kids Read Them

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  1. Such important conversations.

  2. what a great and simple educational piece. Parents have to remember we have to teach our children how to use these tools. How to be safe with them and what the rules (for each family) are. More importantly like you said we have to teach them to be smart sharers. Being a smart sharer also means being kind too. Being considerate of what we share says about us and others. And use speaking up when we see things that are not ok. Thank you for sharing this wisdom. It is so good for others to be reminded of.

  3. Thank you for continually talking about this important topic, Galit.

  4. Oh how much we need this advice, this education and insight in today’s virtual world where there are no boundaries, no limits and our kids have no idea what that even means. It’s such a dangerous unknown, and yet they innocently ‘play in pool’ not understanding the depths of the waters they swim in.

    I’m SO glad you have raised more attention about this very thing, Galit. We need to figure out how to help our children navigate this expansive social media world. I am overwhelmed just thinking about it. Sigh.

  5. Huge HUGE import. We (I’m a little embarrassed to say this but since it was my husband and his daughter and his doing, will share) actually purchased a monitoring software thing on my step daughter’s computer. It let us know when she posted um, well, more than she should have been doing, thinking that emailing a boyfriend photos of herself would remain private. I’m so glad you wrote this book and cannot wait to read it.

  6. Very useful information. I didn’t realise this since I don’t have an Instagram account. One of my daughters is so I will have a chat with her. Thanks!

  7. I have yet to let my daughter have a phone, let alone instagram or facebook but this is a great reference point for when we do.

  8. Galit, a huge YES to all of this. As a now-former teacher, I saw so much of exactly what you talk about here. Kids think their stuff is private and have absolutely no idea how wrong they are. In so many cases I’ve seen, the misconceptions are because no one taught them any different. Working closely with our kids to teach them how to use social media kindly and responsibly is so important. In so many things, really, that open and ongoing dialogue with our children is so very important. Looking forward to your book!

  9. We HAVE to raise kind kids. Nail on the head, there Galit. I am going to share this post with my ten year old daughter who recently talked me into allowing her to have an Instagram account. You’re right – it’s not really enough for us to monitor it – we need to but we can’t do it every second of the day. We must teach and teach and teach some more.

  10. It’s just chilling how one photograph can potentially ruin someone’s life. *sigh*

  11. YES YES YES! I am currently emailing this to my 12 year old daughter!!!! Thank you for this very important message! Great post!

  12. Shared and shared. This is so important. Thank you!

  13. This post is so positive. I love that the building is the lemonade. Great analogy. In our school district anti-bullying is part of the curriculum. I’ve used that photo method to capture photos on Facebook that I want to save – inspirational pictures and what not. It’s really all about the golden rule, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” What is difficult sometimes is to teach empathy to a child who is growing and developing their own inner selves and where there world is centered on themselves. That’s where all those parent/child talks come in. Nice to meet you.

  14. Thank you for writing and sharing this Galit. Thank you.

  15. It really is so important for us to remember back to earlier ages. Our kids won’t be exactly like us, but the need for boundaries and latitude will always exist. It isn’t exactly fun in the moment, but it is so rewarding for all of us. Thank you for this reminder. xo

  16. Thanks, Galit! With two daughters quickly approaching the tween years, I’ve been so very worried about how to handle this issue. My oldest is about to turn 9 and is already telling me she is the only girl at school not texting yet (I’m guessing this has to be a gross exaggeration). So, I’m loving these tips and these lessons from you!

    Kindness, is so important. I actually just wrote a piece on my site this week about how to raise kind kids…did you know that 80 percent of kids surveyed say their parents would rather they get good grades and be high performers than be kind classmates and community members? Pretty scary. Clearly, our behavior is sending the wrong message to our children.

  17. Such an important message. My two are now 19 and 21 and both are in colleges across the country. I rarely hear from them about photos that I post except when it’s something THEY deem inappropriate. “Take it down. Mom. Right now.” Usually it’s a silly pic of them when they were little. My 33 year old nephew says the same to his dad as well. So if we do it right, the tables turn when our kids get older. Love that.

  18. I really enjoyed this read. I haven’t had to deal with online issues yet with my kids because they are still too young (two and five), but I know it’s coming. You’ve given me some good early thoughts for how to handle these conversations when I get there.

    As to the bigger issue YES. We need to raise kind kids. First and foremost. Well said!

  19. Such an important post, Galit. The digital millenials of this time are prone to cyberbullying, so whatever they share gets across the net quickly. A message all parents should read.

  20. My kids are still pretty young and yet my almost 6 year old just recently asked me for an iPhone. While she isn’t getting one any time soon, I agree having these types of open conversations are truly important and essential in this day and age. I also think I am now going to look into the book you mentioned above, as well. So, thank you for this.