Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Dealing with Instagram bullying

August 27, 2014

Q.I’m writing to get reassurance for a recent parenting decision. I also want to alert other parents about cyberbullying. Our daughter is 13. We keep her off of Facebook and Twitter. We monitor her computer use and her cellphone use. We thought we were protecting her adequately. She really wanted to be on Instagram. I’m on Instagram and I post pictures of my garden and share them with other gardeners. We discussed Instagram with our daughter and decided she was mature enough to handle the site.

Less than two months after giving her permission to use Instagram, she told us about a bullying incident involving students from her middle school. Some students were posting pictures of girls in her class and then using some type of survey to rate how ugly or attractive a girl is. Using #ugliest as a hashtag, these kids were incredibly hurtful. Our daughter was one of the girls rated ugly. She’s a beautiful young girl. It breaks my heart to see her hurt. It happened in the summer, so we didn’t have access to our school, but now that school is in session, I’ve spoken to her school principal and guidance counselors. They seem to be on top of the situation, although we were told they may not be able to trace the kids who did this. Do you know why that is true?

I’m sure you’ve encountered this type of bullying before. The parenting decision we made was to not remove our daughter’s use of Instagram. After their initial shock, her friends responded well to the bullying. They posted comments scolding the perpetrators. We think this is a teachable moment for our child. Hiding from social media isn’t possible. We hope to help her be strong about the real world. What do you think? My mother-in-law lives near us and thinks we should ground our daughter. I disagree. She was a victim in this situation. She did nothing wrong. I’m a little concerned that she’ll react negatively to our involvement. She wasn’t happy when we went to her school administrators. As time passes she doesn’t talk about the incident, but I worry she won’t confide in us anymore. What are your thoughts?

Parent living in 2014

Mary Jo’s response: Parenting is often challenging. I think you’re handling this well, although I do understand your mother-in-law’s fear. Her impulse to protect your daughter is a normal response. I agree your daughter did nothing wrong. Grounding her for the negative actions of others is illogical. Your signature reflects your positive attitude: You are parenting in the world in which you live, not the world you wish existed.

Instagram is actually a social networking site. The innocence of posting pictures can be deceiving. Connect Safely has an excellent download for parents at Become informed. You are correct – this is a teachable moment.

Instagram is a photo and video sharing app. In recent years, it has become incredibly popular among young people. Kids love to communicate with their friends using photos, filters, comments, captions, emoticons, hashtags and links. The app works on Apple iPad, iPhones, iPod Touch and Android products.

Instagram users can customize a picture using filters or other tools, then share it with other Instagram users or via social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or by email. Sharing can be public (to anyone), private (to a limited number of people who follow you) or direct (to a maximum of 15 people whether or not they follow your site).

Teach your daughter how to block people. Set her privacy settings carefully. Along with the site, I recommend, and

Like most social media sites, Instagram posts community guidelines and terms of use. Built-in reporting allows a user to anonymously report abusive behavior (

Let’s talk about your concern over her reaction to your conversation with her school principal. Being labeled as the student whose parents told on other students can be isolating, but it appears your daughter’s friends are a group of strong young people. She isn’t alone in this situation. Talk with her openly. Share your fears and explain your actions. Your daughter needs you. Remember she freely told you about the bullying. Talking with other parents and developing consistent responses to bullying will help. I’d be happy to arrange a group discussion for your daughter and her friends. After we meet and I ascertain their needs, we can add parents to the discussion. Open conversations about Instagram and cyberbullying may also be happening at your daughter’s school. Let’s talk about ways to offer schoolwide support and education.

Your daughter may not agree with you now, but most young people are secretly relieved when parents offer support and protection. Remind her you didn’t ground her or overreact. Teaching her to use the site responsibly and carefully is wise. Parents matter.

Instagram states on their site that they cannot provide nonpublic information (like an offending person’s email address) without a search warrant or subpoena from law enforcement. Your school may not realize they need to connect with their local police department to investigate the incident.

Our peer educators met recently to discuss their educational goals for this school year; body image was high on the list. You’re wise to consider this incident as an opportunity for education. Let’s look at ways your daughter and her friends can connect with our peer educators as they develop lesson plans on positive body image.

Peer Educator response:

Everyone uses Instagram. It can be a lot of fun. Your daughter needs to learn how to protect herself. Her experience is pretty common. You were right not to ground her. Even if she acts like she doesn’t like it, stay involved in her life.

Have a question? Connect with Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski at



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