Within the inescapable world of social media, Snapchat is another one of the popular apps included in your teenager’s social media diet. Although it’s prevalent among most 12–18-year-olds, many parents do not fully understand the features, capabilities, and possible dangers this app presents. While Snapchat isn’t fundamentally dangerous, like any social media platform, who uses it and how it is used is where the issues evolve. Before allowing your tween or teen to set up a profile and begin, parents need to educate themselves and then, do anything and everything possible to ensure your children are using Snapchat safely and responsibly.
What is Snapchat?
Start by understanding what Snapchat does and how it works. Like other social media platforms, it is a messaging app that allows its users to communicate worldwide using photos and videos, which are referred to as snaps. All it takes to become a user is a simple download, email sign up, and checking a box to confirm you’re at least 13 years old. But that doesn’t mean the user is 13. When users send photos or videos, they can set it to disappear within seconds, unlike Instagram, Facebook, texts or emails where images remain visible unless you delete. Don’t be fooled though, as images never really disappear, we discuss this feature in more detail in our paragraph on how the app creates a false sense of security.
This messaging app is one of the more popular ones. According to a 2015 study by Pew research 40 percent of teens 13 – 17 were using Snapchat. In 2018, Snapchat had an average of 188 million daily active users that generated over three billion snaps a day.
To keep users interested, Snapchat continues to add new features. Some of the most popular include:
- Filters & Stickers: Snapchat constantly updates facial filters that can be used while users are taking photos and videos. These filters allow users to add graphics, such as a flower crown to the person in the photo or features that turn the person in the photo into a dog. It also allows users to add information such as the time, temperature or location.
- Streaks: A Snapchat streak is the number of consecutive days you have Snapchat messaged someone and they message you back. As of March 2019, the longest Snapchat streak on record is more than 1401 days.
- Snap Map: In Snap Map users can view public snaps for major events as well as see the exact location of their friends or whoever they share their location with. The Snap Map does have an option to turn off this feature in settings.
- Discover Page: This page lets users watch their friends’ ‘Snapchat Story’ as well as public stories and shows. Users have the option to become a “public” account, making any of their stories fully accessible to any Snapchat user worldwide.
Now that you grasp the basic functions and features of Snapchat, let’s look at five key things parents need to be aware of to keep their children safe:
- Beware of a false sense of security All photos and videos on snapchat will “disappear” after a certain amount of time. This feature gives users a false sense that their photos are not permanent, making them more willing to send messages or photos that may be considered more of a “risk” or revealing since it may only appear for a few seconds. What the user doesn’t consider is the receiver can screenshot messages to keep them, and there are also apps that can hack into Snapchat to save received photos and videos. Plus, the app itself always has the ability to archive your data.
- Look out for cyberbullying The disappearing feature also lends itself to making teens more comfortable using Snapchat to send hateful messages and photos to harass other teens. Because these chats can be saved, there have been many incidents where offensive images and videos are circulated to bully or embarrass a classmate.
- Careful of predators
The Snapchat app is full of online predators seeking to lure teens into their trap. Some predators will join the app posing as a teen, while others actually are teens. Either way, all predators have the same purpose – to exploit kids and teenagers for their own benefit.
- Protect privacy
Be sure that your children utilize the privacy settings on Snapchat. Every user can decide who can contact them, view their stories, see their location, and if they want to appear on “quick add”. This can significantly limit the possibility of them getting contacted by any strangers.
- Take action and report
If your child is being bullied or harassed, Snapchat has a feature that allows users to block another user. This is always a good first step to protecting against cyberbullies and predators. If you or your children receive questionable content Snapchat offers an option for reporting abuse and states it will respond within 24 hours. If the abuse breaks Snapchats community guidelines (illegal in nature, nudity, bullying, terrorism threats, etc.), Snapchat will involve law enforcement and permanently delete a user account.
Chat before you let your children snap
If you decide to allow your children to use the Snapchat app you should educate them on the dangers, and make sure they understand how to use the app appropriately. Because of the nature of this app, it is more difficult for parents to monitor, so keeping the lines of communication open and establishing rules and expectations is imperative.
Then, should anything questionable or concerning develop, act immediately.
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