Is Pinterest Okay for Your Kids?

It’s likely you’re already familiar with Pinterest, as it seems you can’t go anywhere on the web these days without seeing that little button encouraging you to .

If you aren’t in the know…here’s the scoop. Pinterest is a social network to create customized, digital bulletin boards and ‘pin’ images with links to the interesting things you find on the web to share with “friends” and “followers.” Pinterest is a website and there are apps available for iOS and Android mobile devices.

As a Pinterest user, you’re encouraged to follow the boards you love from other users, and their ‘pins’ will show up in your account feed. You can choose to “like,” comment on or “repin” ideas from other users’ boards. You can also upload your own images from your computer to your Pinterest board if you wish.

When you set up an account, you have the option of signing in with just your email address or using existing login information from Facebook or Twitter. Creating your account through Facebook or Twitter integrates Pinterest with those platforms and your activity on Pinterest can be shared on Facebook and Twitter as well. Keep in mind, if you intend to maintain any sort of privacy on Pinterest, don’t use your Facebook or Twitter accounts to sign in. If you do, your account will be linked to any profile info you have on those sites (that may include your full name and photo) which will reveal your identity. If you initially sign up using Facebook and Twitter and then decide you don’t want your Pinterest activity connected with those accounts, you can disconnect Pinterest from those accounts in the ‘Social Networks’ section of your account ‘Settings’.

When you create a board, you have option to make it ‘secret’, which makes the board viewable only to you unless you specifically invite someone to view it. Without this designation, your boards can be viewed by anyone (even users without a Pinterest account). Pinterest used to limit users to only 3 secret boards, but they recently changed this restriction and now you can have an unlimited number of secret boards. This is a great news for someone like me that likes to gather the things I love to refer to later, but doesn’t necessarily want anyone following them.

Following other boards is strongly encouraged on Pinterest—actually it’s the whole point of it. When you create an account, you are encouraged to select existing boards and users to follow. When you ‘pin’ something you like, a window will come up showing you another user that pinned what you just did and it will display their board with an option to follow them. At every turn on Pinterest, they want you to share and follow. The obvious reason for this is it’s the way they make money. They want you sharing what you love with other people so marketers can collect information about what you like, and then target goods and services to your needs. They also love the fact that by following and sharing with others we are all out there influencing each other’s buying decisions. It’s truly marketing genius.

I enjoy Pinterest, but I take a very conservative approach to using it. I find it’s a great tool for organizing pictures of things I like and want to return to at a later time. Things like recipes, home décor inspiration, gift ideas, etc. I make private boards for my use only. I’m not interested in following anyone in particular and I don’t actively try to get “followers.” Since my boards are all ‘secret’, anyone who follows me would not find it very interesting at all.

In my opinion, public Pinterest boards provide many benefits for a business or people who stand to gain financially or professionally by sharing what they love or create with other people (an artist or craftsman, for example). I have a hard time grasping why the average person needs to publicly share the things they love with the entire world. If you truly enjoy sharing things you love with your real friends, go ahead and create private boards to share with them. For me, it seems odd to want complete strangers following my tastes online, but that’s just me.

How Are Kids Using Pinterest?

My kids, who are currently under 13, don’t seem to care or even know about the existence of Pinterest and I haven’t heard that any of their friends are on it either at this point. From poking around Pinterest, it appears that teen girls tend to use it in a similar way as Instagram…posting pictures of themselves, friends, favorite sayings, fashion trends…and everything else of interest to them.

Sadly, I’ve read that many young, female Pinterest users are creating boards glorifying ultra-thin women and using them as inspiration for dieting. I mentioned this trend in a previous post: Thigh Gap Obsession Promoted on Social Media Sites. If your kids are creating or following pin boards that are dedicated to unhealthy or negative topics, you may need to have a chat with them.

What are the Concerns for Parents about Pinterest?

  • The concerns are the same as all the other social media sites. There’s nothing stopping kids from including personal information in their profiles, pictures of themselves or their friends, or pinning or following inappropriate content.
  • Pinterest is intended for users 13 and over, but as with many other social media sites, you’ll find no enforcement of this requirement.
  • Pinterest is a PUBLIC digital bulletin board for the purpose of exchanging images. Unless you set a board to “secret” when creating it, it can be viewed by anyone. It could show up in Google Search results and can be viewed by the general public (even if they don’t have a Pinterest account). You can make it so your boards can’t be indexed by Google, but most users don’t seem to do this. Learn how to keep your Pinterest profile information from showing up in search engine results.
  • Anyone can follow your public board. You can’t control this. What you can do is choose to ‘block’ a user that is following you. See more information about blocking followers on Pinterest.
  • If your child posts pictures of themselves or their friends with a smartphone and ‘location services’ is ‘on’, the location of those pictures could be available to the strangers viewing them.
  • With a public board, users who follow you can comment on your “pins.” These comments could be positive or negative…you just never know.
  • There are no filters to control the kind of content that may appear in your account feed when you follow someone. While Pinterest doesn’t seem to have a ton of ‘adult only’ content, there’s no saying for sure what your kids might encounter.From what I’ve read, you’re not as likely to just stumble onto explicit adult content on Pinterest as you are on Tumblr, but it does exist. If kids want to go looking for it by entering search terms, they can certainly find it. I’m happy to report; however, that putting in a simple search term like “parenting” did not return any horrifying results like I found within minutes on Tumblr. Pinterest does have acceptable use policies that discourage hateful, pornographic or violent content….but there’s no guarantee you won’t find it.What users CAN run into very easily on Pinterest, is plenty of images of scantily-clad women that some are even classifying as “soft porn.” Look around, you’ll see what I mean. If you put in a term like ‘fitness’, ‘diet’ or ‘thin’ you’ll likely see many images you’d rather not have your young children viewing.

Spam on Pinterest

Why do people have to ruin everything?

In addition to the risk of being exposed to things you’d rather not see (a risk with all internet usage), there’s a shady practice of flooding Pinterest boards with images in the hope you’ll ‘repin’ and click on the image to be directed to sites with the intent of selling you something unrelated to the image or doing something malicious to your computer. This is ‘spamming’ Pinterest-style.

Spammers pin an image to Pinterest, then edit the link in such a way that it hides the real address, so there’s no way to know where you’re going when you click on the image. It’s truly annoying to have to think twice before clicking on an image on Pinterest. Can you really trust where it comes from? And, are you comfortable potentially spreading spam around the internet by re-pinning it?

Hmmmm…something to consider carefully.

Guidelines for Safer Pinterest Use

If my kids show an interest in Pinterest when they get older, I would want them to adhere to the following guidelines when using it:

  • Do not provide a full name when creating an account. I’d encourage them to use a creative “username” and not their real name at all. Pinterest really only requires a valid email address…so why give them any more.
  • Only create ‘private’ boards and only invite users you know to view them.
  • Do not post a profile picture with your face. Find an image or icon related to your interests instead…or just leave it blank.
  • Do not post pictures of yourself or your friends on your boards.
  • Do not post any personal information (name, address, school…) on your boards.
  • Make sure you have the setting to disallow Google from indexing your profile information. Why make it easier for random strangers to follow you.

As with all social media usage, parents should limit kids’ time on Pinterest. Pinterest is definitely one of those sites that can suck you in for hours on end. It’s fun, for sure…but there are much better ways to spend time.

The Bottom Line

Pinterest can be a very fun if it’s used carefully. As with all of the sites and apps your kids are using, whether or not to be concerned will depend on how they use it. If you don’t know if your kids are using it yet, do a search for their names and the word ‘Pinterest’ and just take a look at what they’re posting and following to make sure you are okay with the content.