Teens are faking it on Instagram, but should parents be worried?
Parents are often told how important it is to monitor what their children are doing online, but some kids may be creating social media accounts their parents don't even know about.
A survey done in April 2017 by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found 76% of teens between the ages of 13-17 use Instagram.
Nick Boulet is a 20-year-old junior at Loyola University in New Orleans. He said Instagram users can feel pressure to present perfection to their followers.
"You know, you kind of want it to be that way, but you want to make it look like you're not really trying," Boulet said.
That pressure to achieve perfection is driving some teens to create private accounts using fake names. It's a called a "finsta," which is short for "fake Instagram.”
"A ‘finsta’ is an account where you post everything you don't want the public to see," said Sky Ray, a 19-year-old sophomore at Loyola.
Students taking a social media class at Loyola were asked by a show of hands how many of them had heard of ‘finsta’ accounts. All of the hands in the class went up. But when the students were asked if their parents knew about these secret accounts, none of them raised their hands.
Ray said she created her fake Instagram account in high school.
"There's a ‘rinsta’ and a ‘finsta,’” she explained. "Rinsta is the real Instagram. On finsta I post everything.”
So, what's the difference? Several students explained that they would post more acceptable content on a real Instagram account. For example, school activities or volunteer work.
But a "finsta" account could contain more questionable photos and videos.
"On their 'finsta,' a parent would expect what their child does what they hang out. It would be them dancing around and partying or them eating a whole bunch of junk food. Things like that," Ray said.
It can be serious, with photos of underage drinking and even drugs. It's also difficult to get teens to reveal the user names on their “finsta" accounts. The point is to keep it private.
"Say you have like 500 followers on your normal account," Boulet said. "Your ‘finsta’ might have like 40 or something."
Ashley Nelson teaches communication and social media classes at Tulane University. She said a “finsta” account can actually be a place kids go to be themselves.
"It allows them to be authentic, to be real," she said. "And it's really a combination of conversations that are just with 10-20 people."
Nelson is also the mother of two teenagers and, at first, the accounts concerned her.
"When I first found out about it, I was concerned," she admitted. "But then I went to my class, my social media class."
What she found is that kids are listening to the warnings about social media.
"Our high school kids were told, 'don't do anything stupid on Facebook or Instagram' because you're applying for colleges," Nelson said. "I think we've all heard stories about students losing scholarships or losing acceptances to schools, right?"
Most schools have social media policies, and many stipulating that students will face disciplinary action for inappropriate material posted online. Ray said they realize it could impact their future, and that even fake accounts aren't safe.
"You never know, someone could screen shot it and send it to other people, or they could show parents," Ray said.
Richard Costa is a clinical psychiatrist at LSU's New Orleans School of Medicine.
"That can put teens at real risk, if they've said stuff that's off color. Stuff that's discriminatory. Stuff that's hateful," said Dr. Richard Costa.
His advice to parents is to keep an open line of communication. Kids may like to be anonymous online, but it can open them up to cyber-bullying and anxiety.
"Moderation is key. Making sure you're paying attention to what your kids are doing, asking questions and not being afraid to ask those questions," Costa said. "Limiting that time, knowing that you're the boss as the parent."
But he said parents need to know that kids are going to test their limits online. And the students agreed.
"If you know your kid, you know their finsta," Ray said. "My mom knows me so she would know what to expect. So, I don't think it's a concerning thing."
Costa summed up finsta accounts by explaining, in many cases, it's a fake account where kids go to really be themselves.
"The irony is that folks are creating those so that they can actually feel more genuine," Dr. Costa said.