If you’re over the age of 50, you’ve most likely heard of Instagram but may or may not necessarily know what it is and how to use it.

Fear not. We’re here to break it down for you. If you’re a techno-tweener (can remember life when there were only three major TV channels, a remote phone was the size of a shoebox and no one ever heard of email), you know what Instagram is but may or may not use it based on personal interests and how busy you are. But if you’re under the age of 30, you’ve totally embraced this new social media, detailing your every move for all to see because if you don’t think you’re the most fascinating person in the world, who else will?

In short, Instagram is photo sharing. Using an app or existing pictures, you upload your picture onto the various social media outlets (Facebook, twitter, Flickr, Posterous, Tumblr or Instagram), put a title on it to make it more fun or sexy and send it out into the cyber world. With Instagram, there are 11 different filters you can use to make the photos more exciting, from futuristic to retro to rustic, that garner “followers” on your profile. While you have the option to put your account to “private,” the 30 and under club rarely choose this. In our Reality TV world we live in, sharing every aspect of your life with total strangers is way cooler and can’t possibly have negative consequences.

Right?

It works like this: You create a profile, complete with a username, profile picture and then begin uploading pictures. As more pictures pop up, more friends and family and strangers “follow.”

National Geographic, for example, posts amazing pictures. Have you seen the one of the crocodile coming up out of the water with a frog perched on his snout? Amazing.

Oh, and have you seen the one of the drunken college kid who then sent a note to her college instructor the next day saying that she had the flu? No? Well, her instructor did and neatly titled the cool picture, “Intoxicated, underage binge drinker needs to come to class.”

When I am instructing my college classes, I often talk about social media to students even though it is not part of the curriculum because they truly do not understand the permanent damaged that can be caused by the “instant,” the “easy,” the “quick” and “convenience” of Instagram and other social media outlets.

How many articles have been written about this very topic? How many segments have aired on the news about a teenager and young adult finding very serious trouble as a result of social media?

Yet it happens again and again.

The appeal is so obvious. During the last Olympic Games, athletes posted hundreds of pictures in just two weeks that chronicled life in Sochi. New parents can post 100 pictures in just two months as a running documentary of their baby’s life for everyone to see. It is fun.

But I have also witnessed the downfall of otherwise very sweet young adults as a result of bad life decisions, poor company and Instagram postings.

Potential jobs and scholarships have been lost this way. I actually cancelled an interview with a prominent athlete who was hoping for – ahem – exposure after discovering raunchy pictures on a public profile.

So you see, children …

Hey, Ms. Allred, I saw on your Facebook page a picture of you wearing some purple ball gown and the caption, ‘White Trash.’ Is that really you?

What? Uh. No. I mean, yes, I was promoting a book but … hey, what are you doing looking on my Facebook?

Hey, Ms. Allred, I saw a picture of you pretending to milk a goat …

Ah. Yes. Well, you see that was a joke because I really like goats and um, well, it was funny at the time and why are you looking at my profile pictures?

Hey, Ms. Allred? How come you’re always posting pictures of goats? You got a thing for goats?

A thing? No. I think they’re funny but I wouldn’t say I had a thing …

Hey, everyone. Sorry I’m late. What are we talkin’ about?

Ms. Allred has a thing for goats and likes to milk ‘em in a purple dress.

Class dismissed! Class dismissed!

It has been said that the written word endures but pictures can seriously screw you up. Be careful what you post and, for the record, I do not have a “thing” for goats. I merely think and write about them often. There are no pictures. At least, not anymore.

    

Now residing in “the nicest city in Texas,” Alexandra Allred is the author of numerous books, including White Trash, Damaged Goods and the Allie Lindell series. Visit her website, www.alexandratheauthor, or Twitter @alexandraallred but always check out her column the WDL as she ponders all things Waxahachie and beyond its borders.