I'll admit it: Yes, I started an Instagram account for my 5-year-old son.
I've been trying to find digital-age bonding methods for my son and I. Sure, we do all that old world stuff -- play catch, cook together, read together, play with Legos. But we also bond over photography -- and when my son started to commission me to take photos of things to post to my own account, I thought "why can't he do this, too?"
I must admit that I'm also interested in the things he wants to present to the world. So, starting an Instagram account for a 5-year-old is also a bit of a social experiment for us. Can my son create likable images? Will people follow a 5-year-old? Will he be driven by likes, or will he continue to post the photos he enjoys? When he's got more than a handful of photos, what types of themes will emerge? Where in his world does he find beauty? Will it help his photography skills?
And most importantly, will I be able to steer him clear of his favorite 5-year-old topics -- poop, his own wiener, and bugs he's stepped on?
The boy already had a Fisher Price "Kid Tough" camera. But the images top off at a nostalgically lamentable 320x240 pixels, roughly half the size of what old Instagram shots were (they've since been increased from 612x612 to 1936x1936). So I gave my son an old digital camera of mine -- a 10-year-old 7-megapixel Sony Cybershot. If he can prove that he can take care of the camera, perhaps we'll step him up to something better. Occasionally, I let him use my cameras as well. We'll then sit on the couch and I'll try to explain what all the buttons do (and then spend 10 minutes saying "don't touch that button! Anything but that button!"). Really, the father-son bonding of it all excites me.
But my initial struggle was this: He's a kid. I know folks that don't let their children watch television or use their iPhones for games... and here I am registering an email address and Instagram account in his name and giving the kid a camera. Alright... so, we may have crossed the bridge before some of our peers, but I think it's a bridge that we're all walking toward. Our generation didn't get phones and social networks until we were teenagers (at least!). But kids these days are growing up with digital footprints. I've already been Instagramming photos of my son on my own account. Now, I'm putting power in his hand to create art of his own (and to take unflattering photos of ME for a change). And yes, there are going to be a lot of food pics.
We sat down and I explained the process. I told him that he'd be choosing images to make public -- meaning, the whole world can see them. This means no toilet photos or icky stuff -- rules that, at 34 years old, I'm still trying to get right.
Otherwise, he tells me which photos he'd like to upload, and I make sure they're suitable and post them. He can't read or write yet, so I ask him what he'd like to add as a description and type it for him (spoiler alert: a lot of times, it's "best [ITEM] ever"). I also allow him to come up with a couple of hashtags, and add a couple with his permission (since his are rarely SEO-friendly). As a child who will be growing up on the Internet, he'll probably have to learn hashtags in school the way I had to learn the Dewey Decimal System. So this is a good start.
He doesn't get ultimate power, though. Since he's a child and has no concept of social media (my hope is that this project changes that), not every one of his ideas will be published. For example, his first photo, seen above -- a blurry shot of him behind a plant -- didn't get his initial description. "Make it say: 'I'm being carried away'," he enthusiastically directed.
I also set him up to follow (with his permission) accounts that I thought he'd like: Disneyland, National Geographic, Marvel, DC, LEGO and of course, mom and dad's accounts. He enjoys looking at the photos and liking the ones that appeal to him. And it's only right that I teach him to "Like" photos that he enjoys. Social media is a two-way street.
Part social experiment, part artistic expression and part introduction to modern digital life, I think that opening an Instagram account for my son will be fun for the both of us. There's a big, wild Internet out there, and for a creative kid, this is a great place to jump in. You can certainly do worse than giving your kid a little creative outlet and teaching him about the internet and social media. Personally, I'm excited.
If you'd like to follow my son on Instagram, you can do so: @talktomatthew.
Follow Zach Rosenberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zjrosenberg