Colorful animated characters, pets, flowers, soccer flags or a normal vacation photo. All this ends up as a profile picture on Facebook, Instagramand Co. A message like “…has updated its profile picture” is something that everyone on the social networks has certainly read before.
But why is the profile picture such an important part of the Internet presence for teenagers and for adults?
Profile pictures can help identify others on the Internet. For example, if your child has made new friends at school, they can check that the name matches the picture and that it is the right person. But profile pictures also offer opportunities to express yourself creatively and show what you like. This in turn helps others get the right impression of a person’s identity.
A profile picture is the first thing you see when you get a friend request or open Instagram. So the profile picture is comparable to the first impression in real life. But online communication lacks things like eye contact, posture, and tone of voice. They show what the interlocutor is like. The profile picture can do that a little bit online as well – for example, because a person can be seen up close and thus their facial expression, such as a smile.
With the profile picture, each person conveys their own messages. Whether it’s just the message, “I like cats,” because there’s a selfie with a cat, a posted image overlaid with filters, or the gray outline of a human. All this sends different messages to the viewer, according to which it is judged whether someone comes across as likeable or not. Similarly work the status on WhatsApp or the stories on Instagram.
This is precisely why it is important for many young people to have a “good” profile picture. This must fulfill certain functions for them: It should look professional, but still spontaneous, or it should be as close as possible to their own ideal of beauty. It can happen that teenagers change their profile picture every few weeks because they have taken a picture that they can identify with better and that sends the right message to their friends.
Teach your child that a profile picture is something that many people can see different things in and it depends a lot on who is looking at the picture. Not only friends, but also teachers or future colleagues at work could see the picture. Therefore, it should be considered beforehand how a profile picture could be understood before it is uploaded.
Profile pictures can also reveal things about a person that are none of other people’s business. Especially if a profile is not private, which means that even strangers can find and view the person on Instagram, Tik Tok, etc., neither the profile picture nor other information should reveal too private things about the person, such as the place of residence. Especially if your child is still inexperienced with social networks, you can first post a picture together that reveals little. This can even encourage creativity. A picture that shows only your child’s shoes or a shadow outline, for example, can still be individual and beautiful. At the same time, it is not clearly recognizable to strangers, so there is less risk of cybergrooming. The safest way is to always set profiles of children and teenagers to “private” so that only friends can see them!