The Perils of Pinterest

I wrote a post about how to use the social media image-driven website Pinterest in 2011, shortly after the site went public.  At that time I wasn’t aware the risks Pinterest poses for our children.

Pinterest users create virtual bulletin boards and pin anything they want to from the internet.  People pin everything from recipes to decorating ideas. You can even pin this post if you find it helpful!

There are some real dangers inherent with Pinterest, especially when it comes to our preteens and teens.  If your kids are using Pinterest, here are some things to be aware of:

Pinterest and Privacy

  • Pinterest doesn’t have the same protections in place as Facebook.  Anyone who wants to can follow you, and there is no way to “block” a user from following you unless they have posted inappropriate content–and even then you have to ask Pinterest to remove the follower rather than doing it yourself.  This is a major difference between Facebook and Pinterest.  Followers can see everything you pin in their news stream, and they can repost what you have shared for their own followers to see.  Those followers can find the original person who posted an image through links.
  • Anyone who wants to can see what your teen is posting to their boards.  You do NOT have to be someone’s follower to see their pins.  This is another major difference between Facebook and Pinterest.
  • Parents can protect their teen’s privacy through the use of “Secret Boards.”  Pinterest allows a user to have three secret boards at any given time.  These boards can only be seen by the board creator (your teen), or by their chosen “collaborators” (your teen’s friends).  Click here for a tutorial on how to set up secret boards.

Pinterest and Pornography

  • There are also no good protections in place for Pinterest spam.  If you or your child receives a notification saying you were “tagged” in a post on Pinterest, do not click on the link unless the tag is from someone you know.  Many of these tags lead to junk spam (like weight loss products) or worse—pornographic images.  Your only recourse is to report it to Pinterest, but you cannot block the person who spams you, even if it happens repeatedly.
  • Pinterest is an image driven website.  People are not generally posting words, though an image may include a description.  They are posting pictures.  Pinterest’s Acceptable Use Policy doesn’t explicitly prohibit  pornography.  Their Pin Etiquette says no nudity is allowed, however they do allow artistic images of nudity.  Teens should be restricted to only viewing the boards of friends they know.  Going to the Pinterest home page and perusing for whatever is out there is asking for trouble.
  • I would caution my teen not to even look at the page which shows who is following them.  Many people use a soft porn image beside their name instead of a personal photo.  Pinterest sends out an email whenever someone starts following you, and that should suffice as notification of a new follower.  I do think moms should be aware of who is following their teens.  I, personally, would find it sobering if my teen were being “followed” by adults from foreign countries.

Pinterest Pals

  • If your teen “follows” someone on Pinterest, they will see everything that person “pins” in their news stream.  If my teen were on Pinterest I would insist they only follow known and approved friends, not strangers.  It is very easy to find people to follow on Pinterest and a teen who lacks wisdom and guidance could quickly get into trouble.
  • Be aware that Pinterest can assign you to follow people they have chosen (strangers to you) when you first sign up.  Make sure to check your teen’s followers and “unfollow” anyone that Pinterest assigned to you.

Pinterest and Principles

  • If you and your teen are both on Pinterest, don’t assume your experience is similar to theirs.  I did not imagine Pinterest was dangerous at all, because I never pin anything except recipes and educational ideas.  Once I started looking into Pinterest, I realized there is a whole lot more available.  The teens I know are not using Pinterest in the same way my adult friends are.  It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be.  Teens are more likely to post about movies, fashion, music, and pop culture.  Do you trust the wisdom of your teen’s friends enough to trust every image they will put on Pinterest?  If  I had a teen on Pinterest I would be taking time daily to look at her news feed.  What are her friends posting?  What images confront my teen when she logs in to Pinterest?  Do the movies, music, and fashion images she sees reflect the values I am trying to form in her?
  • Pinterest appeals primarily to females; thankfully, none of my boys are interested in creating virtual pin boards.  Because of the inherent dangers in an image-driven social media site like Pinterest, we have blocked it through our Covenant Eyes software for our boys’ account.
  • Many teens are unaware that some of their pins may be infringing on the copyright of others.  Not everyone wants their products on Pinterest, especially professional photographers.  Pinterest will remove pins if they believe they violate copyright laws.

Pinterest-savvy Parenting

  • Pinterest  has an option to unfollow certain boards without unfollowing a friend altogether.  Your teen might follow her friend’s crafting board but “unfollow” her rap music board, for example.
  • Teens can also see all the boards of every person their friends are following at the click of a mouse.  Just click on your friend’s name, click on their “followers,” and then choose one to see all of their boards.  Letting your teen get on Pinterest, even with restrictions, can open them to a variety of negative images as well as swear words which appear in some descriptions.
  • We have a rule in our home that we have the passwords and daily follow all our teens’ social media postings.  We look at what our teens are saying and at what they are being exposed to through their friends’ postings.  Pinterest can be hard to keep up with, since it is image oriented rather than text driven–there are typically way more postings to follow than on Facebook.  If you can’t dedicate a few minutes every day to checking out your teen’s Pinterest account (what she is posting as well as what she is seeing) you might want to limit Pinterest usage.

Pinterest and Perception

  • I would also be checking what my teen is posting.  Pinterest is a faster experience than Facebook, and it is not uncommon for a teen who has been on Pinterest for just a few months to have thousands of pins on their boards.  What image is your teen presenting to the world about themselves?  Looking at your teen’s Pinterest boards can be a source of insight into their heart and a springboard for meaningful conversations as you seek to disciple your teen.  One thing I would want to caution my teen about is to be aware that their pins are presenting an image to the world.  Does the image they are presenting match how they want to be perceived by friends, colleges, and potential employers?
  • To protect your teen’s privacy, consider allowing her open an account under a fake name, to have her own board on her mother’s wall, or to make use of “secret boards.”

Pinterest and Predators

  • How comfortable do you, as a parent, feel about what your teen is sharing on Pinterest?  Are any strangers following your teen, and if so, has your teen made themselves vulnerable in any way through posting too intimately on Pinterest?

Talk with your teen about the dangers inherent in Pinterest.  For more tips on handling your teen’s social media presence, check out my post about it here.

*Note: This post first appeared on Mentoring Moments for Christian Women

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