Don’t know what a “finsta” is? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s a fake Instagram account. Fake-Insta. Finsta.
Here’s how Mashable describes them:
Finstas can house a wide variety of pics, from shitposts to risqué selfies to hyper-specific memes the user only wants their best friends to see. They’re generally private, with highly curated followings — it’s not uncommon for finsta accounts to only have 10-15 followers. Unless you’ve been invited to follow someone’s finsta, it’s generally impossible to tell who the account belongs to. It’s essentially a secret, unfiltered Instagram oasis.
Perfect. Just what you wanted your teen to have, right?
This is where the digital world can become overwhelming for parents, when you realize that your teen may have a digital alter-ego. Experts say technology creates wonderful opportunities for kids to grow and succeed, but ample opportunities for them to change who they are, for the worse, online.
“There’s a psychology to this, where kids are feeling like it’s a smoke screen. They can be one person on their device and they can be another person, in person,” says Kacee Jensen, youth advocate behind Let’s Talk Teens.
Clayton Cranford, the Cyber Safety Cop, says understanding the psychology is acknowledging that teens are not mature enough to know the difference between “what is right offline” vs. “what is right online”.
“They just say, ‘It feels different,’ says Cranford. “That’s the adolescent mind. A mind that is not using the prefrontal cortex to make a decision. It’s using the midbrain, the emotional piece of their brain, that is very active in those years.”
So what should you do now? Maybe you’ve discovered this digital alter-ego or you’re just ready to talk to your kid about the risks of creating one. Here’s some advice.
It’s okay to be shocked, but don’t overreact
Suzanne Kosmerl, from Hashtag Parenting, has worked in social media and marketing for 20 years and now teaches parents how to manage that world as a parent.
“Their jaws just dropped,” says Kosmerl, when telling parents what kids can do behind their digital alter-egos. “They were like, ‘What? They can do that?’”
She even admits, despite her expertise in the industry, she was caught off guard when her son finally got a smartphone.
“I used to brag that, ‘Oh, well, he’s never going to get in trouble, because I know what’s going on.’”
But Kosmerl quickly realized every child needs supervision and guidance. The key is creating consequences, but not overreacting.
“I don’t want to be like the sky is falling,” she says. “A lot of people say, ‘Don’t let them do anything. Shut it down.’ And that’s not realistic.”
Start daily digital conversations
“I had one mom tell me, ‘You follow my son on Instagram? He blocked me!’”
It’s not hard for any parent to get to that place, warns Kosmerl, but you can definitely come back from it. The road back to trust between parent and child starts with conversation.
“One of the most common questions you ask your kid is ‘How was your day?’,” says Kosmerl. “You shouldn’t just ask ‘how was your day?’, but ‘how was your day online?’”
She says when parents talk to their kids about their online interactions, on a daily basis, it becomes a common topic of conversation. She recommends simple, casual questions like:
- What did you do online today?
- Did you see any cool memes?
- Who did you message?
- Did anyone send you anything?
You don’t want to pound your kid with an intense interrogation, but show genuine interest in what makes them laugh, what interests them or why they used their devices that day.
Share ground rules with your ‘mom group’
“When we started to navigate our own digital issues, [my son] would go to friends’ houses and we wanted our same rules to apply,” says Kosmerl. “Our mom group decided to get together and we agreed to the same rules, to make it easier. And, to have comfort, that you know they are going to follow the same rules they would have to in your own home.”
Here’s some examples of ground rules Kosmerl recommends parents set together:
- No phones at night. If it’s a sleepover or kids are just hanging out until the late hours, find a place to store and charge all the devices.
- Set limits for gaming. Create an understood time limit on video games, so the kids don’t end up playing for hours on end at another family’s home.
- If a mom sees something alarming, share it. It’s not about tattle-telling, but about relying on a village to raise your child.
Anyone can create a digital alter-ego
If a teen is creating a Finsta or alternative social media account for fun, it’s important to remember that an adult can do the same thing, and likely make it even more efficient, sneaky and attractive.
“The Internet breeds the worst parts of people because there is no accountability,” warns Cranford.
That’s why these experts say it’s important to warn your child that not only their choices, but the choices of others could mean heartbreak.
“The stakes are so much higher these days. When we were in high school you couldn’t send a picture to your boyfriend, that he could send to the whole school,” says Kosmerl. “But now, one good kid being compulsive and making a dumb decision could ruin their life… That’s reason alone that we should be checking their phones.”
Looking for a monitoring app for your kid’s devices? Check out the WebSafety app and it’s features. Want to hear more from experts like these? Join our Digital Parenting Facebook Group, a great place to learn about the latest tech talk, like “finstas”, and parenting tips to help guide your family conversations about technology.