Should I ban my child from using a smartphone?

Parents and educators face a lot of tough choices when it comes to rules on gadget time and social media usage. With so many different opinions out there when it comes to how young people should use tech, how can we navigate through the digital landscape? I’ve noticed that there are usually two types of news articles out there. One type that scares you about changes ahead. And another that actually encourages you to be in control of what’s coming.

Let’s look at a couple of examples and how people have reacted to them.

Is it time to ban children from using smart phones?

“Mounting evidence suggests smartphones cause disrupted sleep, depression and higher rates of attempted suicide. Action is surely required”.

Enough with the moral panic over smartphones. The kids are alright.

“An article in the Atlantic has found some alarming results linking depression and technology. My research with Australian teens paints a different picture

Interesting. The first article has over 4,000 shares. As opposed to the second article that has only 800 shares.

Evidence about how much gadget time children “should” have varies. The general, sensible consensus is that children need a balance of activities. And need to be engaging with age-appropriate safe content and apps.

Many parents don’t allow gadget and screen time at home. And there is evidence that because of this, young people can struggle to keep up with other kids in ICT classes. Tech is here to stay. Being computer literate is essential. It is a key part of school education and future careers. Something to consider when not allowing any screen time at home.

Another recent press release came from Facebook. They’ve launched Facebook Messenger for under 13s in the US. It will have more parental control, and they won’t use the information to create ads – this is what is being said about it…

Facebook Messenger for six-year-olds: need I say why that’s a bad idea?

“Experts agree that excessive screen time is already a health hazard for children. Yet the tech giant wants to target them at an even younger age”.

Facebook launches messenger kids app for kids under 13

Facebook have said ‘There are no ads in Messenger Kids and your child’s information isn’t used for ads. It is free to download and there are no in-app purchases. Messenger Kids is also designed to be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA)’.

As a parent myself, I question whether or not to let my six-year-old use a messenger app. Yet isn’t it a good thing that there’s an alternative to other messenger apps out there? Some children under 13 are using WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger (when the legal age limit is 13). I’m relieved to see that there are age appropriate alternatives for kids.

There has been a call for the social media giants to create a safer space for children. So again, there are two ways of looking at this situation 1. Facebook are targeting younger children or 2. Facebook have created a safer messenger app for children

It’s key for me to feel in control and up to date with what’s going on. I need to be aware of what my children are up to online for their own safety – and I would tell all parents to do the same. Taking tech away and banning my kids from using it could be a hindrance, as I don’t feel it would set them up with the correct skills.

As an example, my children love Minecraft, when they first asked me if they could play it I researched the options. I found the age-appropriate way for them to play. The solution was that they only play on creative worlds and don’t have access to other players, only to each other.

It’s tough if you feel like a tech dinosaur! Keep up to date on the latest changes in social media and technology by following us on our Facebook page. And download our free media and digital literacy resources to help you feel more empowered.

Written by Ruth Gilbey

The media, e-safety and education blogs that we love

The media, e-safety and education blogs that we love

Our aim at Media Smart is to teach primary school and secondary school pupils about media and advertising. It’s important for us to keep parents and teachers up-to-date on the latest developments in this field by sharing fact-based, well-researched and balanced educational articles, blogs and media resources.

Here are our go-to sources for reliable content. Let us know whether your favourites are on the list, and If there are any good ones that we have missed…

Media Smart’s favourite education blogs

Te@cher Toolkit

Ranked the No 1 education blog in the UK (and rightly so), Te@cher Toolkit is a dependable source of informative education articles.

It was set up with the aim of giving teachers a professional platform from which to be heard and offers inspirational and practical resources, by teachers, for teachers.


Make sure you’re never stuck for lesson inspiration again and are always up-to-date on news about education policy. Tes offers subject-based posts, and a selection of the finest themed and topical resources.

You can access Media Smart’s free lesson resources on Tes (as well as on our website).

Guardian Teacher Network

The Guardian Teacher Network is a dedicated space for teachers and school professionals, featuring news, discussions, debate, ideas, analysis and best practice.

Their blog, The Secret Teacher, is an insightful series of articles written anonymously by teachers about their experiences in schools.

Mr P’s ICT blog

Teacher and technology trainer Mr P created his blog to show how technology can be used to raise standards across the national curriculum.

He is an advocate for tech in the classroom as a force for good, and his articles demonstrate best practice for integrating the subject into classrooms and engaging pupils.

Media Smart’s favourite e-safety, media and technology resources and blogs

NSPCC NetAware

Set up by the NSPCC, NetAware offers simple-to-understand guides to social networking sites, and resources for how to keep your children safe and informed in the digital world.

As well as comprehensive guides to each social platform, their website is a fantastic source for articles that help start conversations with pupils around e-safety.

The NSPCC also supported our campaign to encourage young men to talk about body image and the effect it has on their metal wellbeing. If you haven’t seen the film we created with First News yet, watch it here.

Wayne Denner

As a father himself, online safety expert Wayne knows what is important to parents when it comes to e-safety.

You can always trust him to keep you up-to-date through his blogs and vlogs on the latest internet, social media and gaming news.

Common Sense Media

A leading, independent organisation to help kids navigate the world of media and technology, Common Sense Media is full of unbiased info for parents, teachers and policymakers. They believe that media and tech can be a positive force in children’s lives, and their resources reinforce this message.

Their website is particularly useful for finding age-appropriate content for young people, suggesting suitable apps, TV, film and books based on age.

Sonia Livingstone

Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, Sonia Livingstone is a policymaker for children’s rights online. Her expert articles focus on the effect of technology on young people, from fake news to screen time and digital opportunities.

Sonia is an advisor to Media Smart and we have been lucky enough to receive her support in developing some of our own teaching resources, which can be downloaded here for 7-11 or here for 11-16 year olds.

We’re always on the look-out for more great articles and blogs, so please get in touch with any that are missing…

Written by Ruth Gilbey & Nicole Andrew 

Are we good body image role models for our children?

Earlier this year Media Smart released new body image educational resource that achieved the PSHE Association Quality Mark for best practice. We also created a short film starring Dr Ranj and Youth Psychologist – Emma Kenny, to go with the resources.

In the film Dr Ranj, interviews secondary school boys, asking them about any concerns with their physical appearance. It was shocking to hear how self-conscious these boys felt. So many resources and articles have been about girls and body image. But this film highlighted how boys have the same concerns as girls, they just don’t talk about it as much.

Dr Ranj becomes the photographer’s model in the film and demonstrates how many images are airbrushed, highlighting how much of what in the media isn’t 100% “real”.

It made me as a mother of two boys question what my children were seeing in their daily lives? How much pressure they are under to look “picture perfect”?

It also made me question whether I was a good role model for them? Was I promoting positive body image? After reading Media Smart’s parent guides, what stood out for me was how impressionable children are from an early age.

One simple piece of advice has made me rethink the way I talk to my children.

“Talk about what your body can do, not what it can look like”

This is now my internal mantra!

In the past, I had been guilty of referring to their appearance and bodies. I’m even guilty of referring to my son as “skinny” and “having no hips”.

(I should add this isn’t something I do now).

My son looked confused and concerned and I quickly realised what a huge parenting fail this was!

I asked other parents if they felt they were good role models and this is what they said…

“I’m massively guilty of talking negatively about myself, (not all the time you understand, just the odd comment!) and my sense of humour is naturally self-deprecating – but I try and catch myself saying things in ear shot of my son as I know it all goes in…Personally, I don’t think it’s harmful to tell your kids they are beautiful and as long as you make sure it’s clear you mean inside and out and explain that beauty takes so many interesting forms etc..”Mum of 7-year-old boy.

“I’m guilty of moaning about my weight in front of my daughter. It’s only started recently but as soon as it comes out I feel so terrible, especially since she’s started talking about her fat tummy” Mum of 8 and 6-year-old girl.

“My mother was a serial dieter and it really gave me a complex about my weight, conversations about losing weight seemed the norm in my house! I’m careful not to pass these on now!” Mum of 11-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy.

“My husband and I would always talk about our weight and dieting openly. And we started to notice our children asking about their weight which was a massive wake up call for us”Mum of 2 teenage children.

“A friend of mine’s Dad once called her thunder thighs, she became anorexic at 14 and blamed that one comment”. Mum of 9-year-old girl and 12-year-old boy.

We all have stories, we all remember what it was like being referred to as a child by our size or shape or appearance, and the negative effect it can have on us. There’s still so much more that we must learn about passing on our insecurities and comments to the next generation.

We need to empower children with critical thinking skills to help them navigate the digital world around them. And be better positive body image role models.

Download our free parent guides or teaching resources to find out more.

Written by Ruth Gilbey

5 social media tips for parents and teachers

It’s challenging for parents and teachers to keep up to date with the ever changing world of social media. Inspired by the Children’s Commissoner #Digital5ADay campaign we’ve come up with some easy to follow tips to help…

1. Stick to the legal age limit

Most social media platforms have a legal age limit of 13+. To keep up to date, the NSPCC has a great website called NetAware. You type in the name of the social media platform you are interested in and it will tell you the legal age and details about their service.

So what is the problem with your child being on social media before they are 13 (the legal age limit for most social media)? There are various safety reasons, and it’s also worth thinking about what they will see if they lie?

Consider this…. if an 8 year old child signs up to a social media account, when they’re 13 they will be seeing content and advertising that is for an 18-year-old. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

An alternative safer social media platform such as is a good option for younger children.

2. Keep up to date and stay involved

Social media isn’t going away any time soon! We appreciate that there are still some people who aren’t on social media, but what if your child wants to be?

If you don’t know how social media works, how can you support your children? One parent said she was unaware of the direct messaging functionality on Instagram. So she was missing how her child was communicating with her friends.

Snapchat’s Snapmaps caused concerns for parents, so knowing how to set it to “Ghost Mode” is essential. Many social media platforms have Geolocation functionality. You may want to consider turning this off as well.

Follow this link to set Snapchat to Ghost Mode.

We think knowledge is power, our resources empower parents, teachers and children. They help them to understand the digital world around them. Follow our Facebook page where we share the most up to date content on the changes to social media. We can also answer any questions you might have via our page or by email.

3. Communicate with your children

Agree up front that you will have an open and honest dialogue about their activity on social media. If they talk to you, then it will be easier to support them.

Also, who do you want them to connect with online? Only friends and family? Check and agree with who they are connecting with.

Chat to them about what they are seeing, explain what an advert is or a sponsored post. Show how they are being advertised to on the different platforms. Use our parent guide to help explain to them how Vloggers and influencers are paid to endorse products.

Talk to them about how many images are edited and air brushed to look a certain way. Our new film, the Boys’ Biggest Conversation, explains it all…

Here’s the link to the film and our Body Image & Advertising resources.

4. Be safe

All of our lessons and guides list where we think the best sources of e-safety information are for schools and parents. Also, like our Facebook page for the latest news on the subject.

In addition to NetAware, the NSPCC has a campaign called Share Aware, which offers advice on how to keep young people safe online.

5. Don’t focus on the negative!

It’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of social media – but there are many positives too. New research is proving that good things can happen when kids connect, share and learn online.

Think about how many amazing things are achieved through us being socially connected.

For more information download our FREE parent guide on social media and digital advertising.

Written by Ruth Gilbey

What do we do at Media Smart and why

We recently launched our new body image and advertising resources that focus on boys and the effects of negative body image on young men. These resources (like all our resources) have been created for schools and youth organisations to be used as a lesson, in an assembly or as a workshop. We also provide guides for parents and guardians – which are free to download.

Research shows that over half of girls and a quarter of boys think their peers have body image problems. So now more than ever, it is important that pupils are media literate and able to navigate the world of commercial messaging.

Technology and media are here to stay, so teaching media and digital literacy is crucial for helping children become better, safer and more empowered digital citizens.

An article was recently published in the Washington Post that we thought summed up the need perfectly:

“Between wanting to be informed and the permeating torrent of media, it’s not realistic to shut it out of your child’s life completely. In teaching our kids good digital citizenship, we don’t want to do that anyway. With a little mentorship, we can help fight the incursion of fake news with what always defeats ignorance: knowledge”.

It’s not just about fake news though, it’s also understanding how and when we are being advertised to. Advertising has changed dramatically and there is a need to keep up to date with the latest ways brands are reaching out to consumers. What is an advert, how has it been constructed and why? Research is proving that the more media literate young people are the happier they are about their body image.

Following the launch of our latest resources and our supporting awareness campaign – the Boys’ Biggest Conversation, we thought it would be a good time to reflect and remind you of what we’ve done so far.

Here’s a summary of what Media Smart provides and why, with links to each of the resources available.

1. An Introduction to Advertising for 7-11yrs

These introductory lessons help children understand what an advert is and why they are there. Many young people have never had this explained to them, they may not be able to distinguish between what an advert is and what isn’t. These lessons look at advertising across all mediums from print to digital. It also looks at the creative process behind advertising and there are a number of exercises to spot adverts and design their own.

2. Digital Advertising for 9-11 yrs

These resources delve deeper into digital and social media advertising.

Advertising has evolved considerably, parents and teachers are telling us that they’re finding it hard to keep up to date, and help their children navigate the digital space.

These resources guide you through the different ways advertisers use digital platforms  and why and how they differ. Examples used include social media, gaming, video, celebrities and vloggers, and website search.

3. Social Media & Advertising for 11-16 yrs

Many young people are introduced to social media platforms without any understanding of what they’re actually seeing and why. They don’t know that what they see is determined by their behavior online and what details (including their age) are recorded?

This resource aims to encourage students to think more deeply about the types of social media available to them:

  • The advertising they are exposed to and how to manage it.
  • Their relationship with social media sites, their sponsors and advertisers.
  • The business models that allow them to access a whole range of sophisticated services free, or at very low cost.

4. Body Image & Advertising for 9-11 yrs

These resources look at how we compare ourselves with people in advertising and media and how this can influence our thoughts on body image. They show you how adverts and images can be digitally manipulated to give a different idea of what’s “real” and help children understand how the media might make them feel and why.

5. Body Image & Advertising for 11-14 yrs

All of our resources are gender inclusive, but off the back of Credos research, we thought there was a need to create educational materials that focus on the effects of negative body image on boys (as many are more girl focused). We also created a film called the Boys’ Biggest Conversation with First News and Dr Ranj where we spoke to secondary school boys about the way they felt about their appearance and why….

Boys have the same issues as girls but don’t feel able to talk about it in the same way. The resources look at advertising, digital manipulation and the role social media plays in how you feel about yourself. 

Written by Ruth Gilbey

10 Instagram accounts that will inspire and educate you…

We’ve seen a rise in “positive news sharing” on Instagram. So we’ve collated some of our favourite inspiring and educational accounts. We’ll be sharing our favourite Instagrammers on our Instagram feed @mediasmartuk.

The minimum age to have an Instagram account is 13 years old. We’ve included links to internet safety and social media guidelines in our digital advertising and social media guide for parents, which are free to download.

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4 in 5 young people have been inspired by an online image or video to take positive action. Source @uk_sic

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So here are a few of our favourites…

1. Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls @amypoehlersmartgirls

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Repost from @fly_sci . Link in bio for more. 👆👆👆 Launched today—Black Girl 44 Scholarship! ✨💃🏽✨. . . The Black Girl 44 Scholarship was created by former Obama White House alum Deesha Dyer @deedyer267 and includes contributions from more than 55 Black / African-American women who worked in the Obama White House. This private and independent initiative will award three $1,500 scholarships to Black/African-American women college students who have earned a Washington, D.C. internship that relates to policy, community engagement, community service, advocacy, global relations or politics for Fall 2019. . Scholarship recipients will be chosen from an application process that runs from June 19 to July 31, 2019. Winners will be notified in August and they will receive their scholarship award at a September luncheon in Washington, D.C. The eligibility requirements and application can be found at Questions? Email . . #BlackGirlMagic #Scholarship #Internship #WashingtonDC

A post shared by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls (@amypoehlersmartgirls) on

Founded by artist Amy Poehler and producer Meredith Walker, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls organisation is dedicated to helping young people cultivate their authentic selves. “We emphasise intelligence and imagination over “fitting in.” We celebrate curiosity over gossip. We are a place where people can truly be their weird and wonderful selves. We are funny first, and informative second, hosting the party you want to attend”.

Interested in positive role models for your teenager then check out this Instagram account.

2. First News @First_news

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Your brand new issue of First Moos is out today, and the happy cows are celebrating as kids vote for meat-free Mondays! 🐄 This and loads more, in shops today!

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The only weekly newspaper for young people with over 2 million readers.

First News is the award-winning, family owned, weekly newspaper for young people (aged 7-14). Produced in a traditional, full-colour tabloid newspaper format, it presents relevant stories and current affairs in an informative, entertaining and stimulating way, encouraging children to take an active interest in the world around them.

3. Positive News UK @positivenewsuk

Good journalism about good things – “The world’s First Positive Newspaper”.

Want a different perspective? Or to find out what else is going on in the world? Then check out @positivenewsuk on Instagram.

4. hello giggles @hellogiggles

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For decades, “nude” has denoted a pale beige tone, making white skin the default and the only option on the rack. It’s a lack of #representation felt at every tier of the fashion industry—from department stores to social media marketing campaigns, from shoes to underwear. Thanks to new WOC-led brands, that’s beginning to change, but most consumers have no idea how much harder founders have to work within a multi-billion dollar industry not designed for their participation.⁣ ⁣ At the link in the bio, HG contributor @beatrizk broke down what @nunude_official and other #WOC founders are facing to redefine “nude” and push diversity forward. 📷: @eazyvisuals⁣

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An online community for women covering the latest in culture, relationships, careers, & issues that matter most to young women’s lives.

Founded by Zooey Deschanel, Molly McAleer, Sophia Rossi in 2011 as a place on the internet to inspire and smile.

5. Upworthy @upworthy

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#WednesdayWisdom. Go follow @Goodhq for more inspiring quotes

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“Upworthy is on a mission to tell stories that bring people together — because we’re all part of the same story…”

“Lots of media companies have a mission. But Upworthy is on a mission to change what the world pays attention to.

We believe that stories about important issues can and should be great stories — stories for everyone, stories that connect us and sometimes even change the world.”

6. Bright Vibes @brightvibesmedia

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Worrying kills more dreams than failure ever will. Remember that worrying is just as effective as trying to solve algebra by chewing gum.

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“We believe in the power of Contagiously Inspiring Stories. As an opposing force to the torrent of negative news that leaves people numb, we put positive change makers in the spotlight. With our stories we want to inspire you to also have positive impact”.

7. Nat Geo @natgeo

“National Geographic covers every corner of the globe, explores the farthest reaches of the universe and probes the unexplored depths of the oceans. It brings you a truly insightful and thought-provoking look at the world around us”.

8. Nasa @nasa

The official Instagram account of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“We reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.”

9. Edutopia @edutopia

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The George Lucas Educational Foundation. A group of positive and proactive changemakers who are passionate about improving education.

10. This Girl Can UK by Sport England @thisgirlcanuk

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Jumping into a new week full of energy. #MondayMotivation #FitGotReal #ThisGirlCan #trampolining #jump

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Celebrate the active women who are doing their thing no matter how they look or even how sweaty they get. Powered by National Lottery players.

It doesn’t matter what age you are, there’s some amazing people out there that we can learn from. If we’ve missed any, please get in touch on social media. Tag us on Instagram @medismartuk and use the hashtag #GetMediaSmart.

Written by Ruth Gilbey

Why do teens love Instagram?

Including tips and advice for parents and teachers.

We wrote this blog to offer an insight to parents and teachers on Instagram: how it works, why it’s a favorite and what pitfalls to look out for. The more parents and teachers understand, the more they can support young people. Social media usage is often hidden from parents and that’s when problems can occur. Creating an open dialogue means you can support your children.

Instagram is one of the most widespread social networks with teens, with some teens claiming they spend hours editing photos before they post them. We did some research into why Instagram is so popular and who young people are following.

Social media can be a positive force for change. Media Smart has some key advice to help young people understand social – our aim is to gather facts, understand and educate. Tech is here to stay so teaching digital resilience and media literacy is essential. We also want to focus on the positive aspects of social media; its power to do good, raise awareness, enlighten and inspire.

It’s challenging for parents to keep up with all the new features and how their children are using Instagram. This is why we’ve highlighted the most up to date features and insights for you to be aware of:-

  • Instagram has 500 million active users and is growing every day. Instagram users “like” 4.2 billion posts per day In the last hour 1 in 5 children have used Instagram – so there’s no denying its popularity.
  • More than 40 billion photos shared, and 95 million per day!
  • The most followed Instagram account: Selena Gomez, with over 117 million followers.
  • Real Madrid footballer Cristino Ronaldo has over 95 million followers and is one of the most popular male Instagrammers after Justin Bieber temporarily deleted his account due to negative comments
  • Want to know more about who your teenager might be following on Instagram? Read The 18 Teens Dominating Instagram and 55 British Celebrities You Should Be Following on Instagram. Are you happy with the accounts your children are interacting with?
  • Instagram was bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion, who then introduced sponsored posts and adverting to Instagram. Does your child know that adverts will be on their Instagram feed? Can they identify a sponsored post?
  • Did you know Instagram has a separate group chat function? Many parents are unaware of this when they’re monitoring their children’s online activity.
  • Having more than one account is popular with younger users, some have a “real” and a “fake” account.
  • Also celebrities and Instagram influencers* can get paid to promote products to their followers. The more followers you have the more money you can command for endorsing products. Major social media influencers like the Kardashians have been reported to charge around £1500 per post for featuring products on their feeds. Make sure your children are aware that many Instagrammers will endorse products, and will be paid to talk about and advertise them on their Instagram feed.
  • In 2016 Instagram introduced ‘Instagram stories’ a Snapchat style feature (and Facebook is also rolling this out this now) where you can post temporary images and videos to your profile. It allows users to take photos, add effects and layers on top of their photos. Stories uploaded to a user’s profile expire after 24 hours.

We also researched why young people love Instagram. Here’s what they said

“I see it as a creative outpost for ideas, somewhere where kids can share their ideas and photos ”

“I love Instagram as there are lots of artsy photos and I love photography”

“Sometimes if I’m not sure of a photo I might snap it to someone or send it to them, before I post it on Instagram”

“I think it’s a numbers game and quite competitive, how many followers and likes can each person get”

“I can share photos and talk to my friends without my family seeing or joining the conversation”

The NSPCC also conducted a survey on all the popular social media networks. There were three main reasons why teens love Instagram.

You can share with others, you can communicate with others, and you can follow others.

Instagram is often quoted as being a very positive place by many, but also criticised for being unrealistic. However, you can decide what you see (based on who you are following and engaging with). Instagram explains its use of personalised algorithms: “Posts are selected automatically – based on things like the people you follow or the posts you like.”

So if you don’t like what you are seeing on your feed, think about why you’re on there and what you’d like to see more of.

Naomi Russo wrote an article for Quartz about this “I used to think social media made me feel bad about myself. But a recent dive into my viewing habits made me realise that the problem wasn’t just Instagram — it was also the way I was using it”.

“I began by unfollowing people who might have been contributing to my body-image problem. Why was I following so many Victoria’s Secret models, and women whose only job seemed to be working out?”

With some help from young people, parents and teachers we found some amazing Instagrammers out there. They’re not just posting selfies or advertising products!In our next blog, we’ve collated some of our favourite inspiring and educational Instagram accounts. We could all do with some positive, but real news, in our lives.

It doesn’t matter what age you are, there are some incredible people out there that we can learn from. If you have any suggestions of accounts like these, get in contact via social media and tag us on Instagram @mediasmartuk and use the hashtag #GetMediaSmart. We would love to share them in our next blog…

The minimum age to have an Instagram account is 13 years old. We’ve included links to guidelines on internet safety and social media  in our Digital Advertising and Social Media Guide for parents, which are free to download.

*Influencers — Influencer marketing (also influence marketing) is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on specific key individuals (or types of individual) rather than the target market as a whole. Source Wikipedia.

Written by Ruth Gilbey