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5 Instagram Secrets Your Teen Doesn’t Want You to Know

5 Instagram Secrets Your Teen Doesn’t Want You to Know


When my daughter turned thirteen, her dad and I asked, “So, do you still want a Facebook account?” She had pleaded with us, unsuccessfully, for months about Facebook.

We feared social media would usurp the natural rhythms of her tween years: playing, creativity, reading, and boredom. We wanted our daughter to remain a kid for a little while longer.

Our daughter’s reply to our question surprised us. “No way, Facebook is for old people! I want Instagram.”

She said all her friends were on Instagram.  It is THE way teens connect in social networks these days. Promoted as a photo-sharing app, Instagram also contains the functions of a social network that meets the needs of teens, many of whose parents, like us, denied them a Facebook account out of concern for age appropriateness, cyberbullying, or privacy.

We assumed Instagram was an innocuous platform for our daughter to get her feet wet in the world of social media and connect with her friends. After I conducted a recent and informal poll among some parents of teenage Instagram users, I realized that most parents are not aware of the unspoken norms of teenage social networking. In her article, How Instagram Became the Social Network for Tweens, author Michelle Meyers describes the naïveté of parents, “But with Instagram our guards were down. We never really imagined how it would be used.”

Plenty of online articles exist that explain what parents should know about Instagram. Most of them include warnings about geotagging, privacy settings, and blocking users. There is some token mention about how Instagram can be used as a platform for cyberbullying. My husband and I did our due diligence and read these articles before granting our daughter permission to create her Instagram account. None of the articles we found on the web describe how Instagram cyberbullying is actually executed.

I believe there’s a simple explanation for this: teens don’t talk to adults about how and what they are communicating on Instagram. Of course they don’t — they’re teens!

What I’ve uncovered is the secret culture of teenage Instagram communication. And for a parent who wants to raise a healthy, self-confident and independent daughter, I’m disturbed by what I’ve learned. What I discovered about teen behavior on Instagram is that it is: a) pervasive and prolific, b) considered by adolescents to be a completely normal part of their social networking code of conduct and, c) veiled in secrecy so that it’s hidden from adults and can easily be overlooked by parents. This type of social behavior has always existed among adolescents, but things are different today – in literally seconds a teen’s life can be turned upside down from a hurtful comment posted publicly, and it can potentially live on for weeks, months, or years online.

Here’s what’s happening on Instagram (Note that the post examples and photos are actual samples taken from Instagram.):

like for a rate copyA teen user posts a photo on his/her feed. The type of photo isn’t important; it could be any kind of image. This user writes a caption under the photo; a call to action, so to speak, which appears immediately after their user name.  In the example below, the user name is “teen_A” whose call to action starts with “like for a”:

  • teen_A like for a

… followed by one or more of the following evaluation words:

1. Rate (see photo, right)

2. Truth Is or To Be Honest (tbh)

3. First Impression

4. Best Feature

5. To Be Rude (tbr)

Next, teen_A’s followers who want to accept this solicitation “double tap” on teen_A’s photo to “like” it. For instance, a user by the name of “teen_B” double taps the photo posted by teen_A. Teen_B’s user name is now captured in a list under teen_A’s photo and is visible to teen_A and all of teen_A’s followers. By double tapping, teen_B has now accepted teen_A’s solicitation for teen_A to rate teen_B.

Soon, teen_B will receive a comment written by teen_A posted under, typically, a selfie image teen_B has previously posted on his or her own Instagram feed. Teen_A’s comments on teen_B’s selfie will correspond to the above-mentioned evaluations in the following manner:

1. Rate

Teen_A will simply type one numeral, from 1-10, in the comments section under teen_B’s selfie. It is universally accepted among teen Instagram users that this number is a rating of that teen’s appearance. Teen_A’s comment looks like this under teen_B’s selfie:

  • teen_A 7

The “like for a rate” has a variety of nuances:

  • If the rated image is that of a female, it’s understood by teens that the rating of 1-10 applies solely to her appearance. If the image being rated is that of a male, the rating is assumed to apply to both his appearance and his personality.
  • If a close friend is rating the selfie, a rating of 9 or 10 is considered insulting. Therefore, a rating of “100” by a BFF (best friend forever) is standard practice.
  • Generally, a rating between ‘7’ and up to ‘10’ is considered favorable. A rating of ‘6’ or below is regarded as low and often evokes feelings of inadequacy in the teen that received this kind of rating.

2. Truth Is or To Be Honest (tbh)

Teen_A will comment on teen_B’s selfie in one of the following ways:

  • teen_A tbh – u r really pretty and stunning and nice
  • teen_A truth is u r in my math class
  • teen_A truth is I’ve seen u around but we never really talk and we should get to know each other

The norms for “tbh” posts are:

  • “Shoulds” are rarely acted upon; writing “we should” about the desire to get to know somebody better rarely results in a new or deeper friendship between two teens.
  • A guy’s “tbh” comment will differ from a girl’s. His “tbh” comment tends to be factual while hers is sprinkled with subjective opinions. Can you guess which of the above comments some guy posted? Yep, the one about math class.
  • With a  “tbh”, it’s expected that friends will post mean comments as a joke. For example: teen_A tbh– omg, u r so ugly, why r u a person? #ily (I love you.)

3. First Impression

Teen_A will comment on teen_B’s selfie in one of the following ways:

  • teen_A first impression – u r a really good singer
  • teen_A first impression- u seem nice

4. Best Feature

Teen_A will comment on teen_B’s selfie in one of the following ways:

  • teen_A best Feature – eyes
  • teen_A best feature – everything!

It’s common for two ratings to be combined. For example, teen_A’s photo caption will state:

  • teen_A like for a rate and best feature

When teen_B double taps teen_A’s photo, teen_B has just accepted the invitation to be rated by teen_A on these two parameters. Teen_A’s comment on teen_B’s selfie might look something like:

  • teen_A rate – 9, smile

1-10 copyCombinations of ratings have become so popular that images now exist on Instagram for teen_A to capture as a screen shot and post on their account with the caption, “Pick 2.”

Using the image on the right as an example, teen_B will post a comment under this image:

  • teen_B 3 and 7

Then, teen_A finds a selfie on teen_B’s account and posts a comment that corresponds to teen_B’s choices of ’3′ and ’7′:

  • teen_A rate – 9, hot

5. To Be Rude (tbr)

Typically, a “tbr” is a written comment posted under a selfie:

  • teen_A tbr u r so pretty u make everyone jealous
  • teen_A tbr ur teeth are way 2 straight

like for a TBR copyNotice the inherent conflict in these “tbr” comments: it’s an invitation to be rude, but the post’s offensiveness is camouflaged in a compliment. However, there was nothing complimentary about the “tbr” posts that resulted in the suspension of three eighth grade students at our local middle school last week. These students took the “tbr” to another level by posting videos about the teens that double tapped their “tbr” image. The offenders allegedly posted a fifteen second “tbr” clip in which they had filmed themselves commenting about a fellow student:

“To be rude, I don’t really know you and I don’t really wanna cuz you seem like a total bitch.”

Much like a pebble thrown into water causes ripples to radiate outward, this “tbr” video and any of these “like for a…” posts can be viewed by followers and exponentially increase the potential for shame and embarrassment for the teen who double tapped the “tbr” solicitation.

Our assumption that Instagram is a harmless place for our teenage daughter was inaccurate. When we allowed our daughter to create her Instagram account over a year ago we didn’t know we were submitting her to public evaluation, often based on traits of the most superficial kind. Nevertheless, these social critiques are exactly what she’s yielding to every time she solicits or responds to one of these “like for a…” posts. I may have been naïve about Instagram, but I’m fully aware that there are very few people who can participate in an environment full of constant subjective evaluation and criticism and remain unaffected – and adolescents are particularly vulnerable.

I don’t blame Instagram for how teens are using its platform. But, the caring and concerned parent within me can’t help but imagine what my post would look like if Instagram double-tapped my “like for a rate and tbr” image:

  • holli_kaplan rate- 1, tbr u r brilliant for creating an addictive app that makes raising resilient teens even more challenging for their parents u suck


Famtivity Tip: Visit Famtivity’s blog next week to read my follow-up post: 4 Parenting Tips for Your Teen Instagram User.

In the meantime, what do you think about teenage Instagram use?  What’s valuable about it and what are the drawbacks?  How do you support your own teen’s use to ensure a healthy relationship between technology and social development?



Holli Kaplan is Famtivity’s Blog Manager. She is a mama, wife, and student of life with a Master’s degree in clinical psychology. She and her family seek out an active life full of surprises inspired by their many travels and living abroad in Paris, France. Excerpts from Kaplan’s blog, Ma Vie Est Arrivée, have been quoted in the parenting book French Twist. Kaplan resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and is on a constant mission to infuse the European lifestyle into her family’s American one. When she’s not wearing her “Dance Mom” and “Soccer Mom” hats Kaplan joyfully attends Bhaṅgṛā dance lessons, regularly huffs & puffs through Nike Training Club classes and lovingly snuggles her hypoallergenic cat. She can be contacted at