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In many ways, it’s understandable why Instagram has decided to launch a new “Instagram Kids” product designed to appeal to the Under 13 crowd. Instagram views its new Kids product (which is still in beta mode) as a kinder, gentler, safer version of its core Instagram product. It’s sort of like a PG-13 version of a social network, so what could possibly go wrong?
Arguments against Instagram Kids
Well, it turns out a lot could go wrong. A coalition of 35 organizations and 64 independent experts have sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, warning him of the potential ill effects and unintended consequences of launching Instagram Kids. As they see it, there are five key reasons why Instagram Kids could turn out to be a real disaster, ranging from privacy concerns to concerns about self-esteem and mental health. Add in the fact that Instagram is basically conditioning kids to get addicted to social media at such a developmentally young age, and you can see why critics and health experts are so concerned.
According to these health experts, the biggest concerns are those related to mental health. If adults struggle with the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), just think about what will happen to young 13-year-old kids who are supremely attuned to the need for peer approval. Do you really want your 13-year-old kid stressed out about what to wear to school each day, or to spend their spare time learning how to pose for suggestive Instagram pics designed to get a lot of likes and comments (and perhaps unwanted attention by older adults attracted to that kind of thing). Teaching your kid how to be an “influencer” at such a young, tender age is almost certainly a recipe for disaster. Children are just too vulnerable and not developmentally ready.
Arguments for Instagram Kids
As might be expected, Instagram basically suggests that all of these concerns are overblown and exaggerated. “The reality is that kids are online,” says Instagram. In other words, if kids aren’t using Instagram Kids, then they will be using Snapchat, TikTok or Facebook instead. Trying to put the social media genie back into the bottle is not going to work, so we might as well try to create an experience as safe and age-appropriate as possible. (Sigh)
With that in mind, Instagram says it is taking a number of important steps, such as giving parents a full suite of parental controls to make sure that their kids are using the platform appropriately. And Instagram also says the site will be ad-free, and thus free of commercial pressure to buy certain products or use certain services. Presumably, that means that kids will not face the same pressure to become “influencers” as do their older siblings. And, hopefully, they will not be exposed to any adult content, such as overly sexually suggestive content.
Instagram Kids vs. Instagram
While some of these official arguments in support of Instagram Kids make a certain amount of sense, they also ignore the reality of what kids are thinking, doing and saying these days. As critics have pointed out, many kids will consider Instagram Kids to be “babyish and not cool enough.” As a result, Instagram Kids may end up appealing to only the very youngest of users.
Remember when you were a young kid trying to fit in? Did you want to see the PG-13 blockbuster film, or did you want to sneak into the R-rated film your older siblings were talking about? Did you want to wear the smart, sensible clothes your parents picked out for you, or did you want to push things to the edge as much as you could with short skirts and rebellious t-shirts?
It’s easy to see how a star athlete in junior high school is going to want to be on Instagram and not Instagram Kids as they embark on their high school sports “career.” And you can apply that logic to just about any other group, too. Do you really think the “Queen Bees” at your grade school are going to be satisfied with Instagram Kids?
And that might be the big lesson here. Social media giants are thinking about their products as just another retail brand extension designed for kids, similar to the way that Gap introduced Gap Kids, or the way that Abercrombie & Fitch unveiled abercrombie. As they see it, they are doing nothing wrong by going after an entirely different consumer segment with a new brand extension. But here’s what they miss: all the mental, emotional and psychological effects produced by social media for young kids. Social media giants are so focused on their own profits and showing year-over-year growth to investors that they are forgetting that they are toying with the fragile psyches of young kids.