If you’re the parent of a teen, chances are you’ve heard of Snapchat. With over a billion downloads worldwide, Snapchat is one of the most popular messaging apps on the market. Here are our top parent need-to-knows about this social media sensation.
Snapchat is part social media, part private messaging. The app allows users to create and share time-limited videos, photographs and text, all of which can be made to ‘disappear’ after the recipient has viewed the content. Snapchat is used for 1-to-1 messaging, group chats, location tracking, and to share vlogging (short videos and photos taken and shared throughout the day) style content with a larger audience of followers or publicly. Some features that parents should be aware of are:
Snap Map s
Snap Map is (unsurprisingly) a map that can be accessed within the app. To access the map, you open the app and swipe down from the camera screen. Snap Map allows users to share their location with others. Users can select who their location is visible to, from specific friends, to everyone on their Snapchat contacts list, or no-one at all (known as ‘Ghost Mode’). Snapchat will only show a user's current location when the app is actively open (i.e. doesn’t update users location in the background) but with teens frequently accessing the app, the location information tends to be close to real-time for many users. Snap Maps also presents videos of what strangers are posting online, marked by blue dots on the map.
Stories is a popular feature within Snapchat that allows users to share photo or video content through a ‘story’ attached to their Snapchat profile. Users can curate their story audience. They can choose to share content through their story with select people/groups, everyone on their Snapchat contacts list, or even publicly through the Snap Map. Sharing your story publicly through Snap Map means that the photo/video will attach itself to the location from which you uploaded it. When other Snapchat users click on that location in Snap Map, your story will be visible.
My Eyes Only
My Eyes Only is a password protected file within Snapchat where users can store the Snaps that they don’t want others to see. My Eyes Only only allows users to store Snapchats from their ‘Memories’ (photos/videos that users have taken and saved within the app), meaning that they can’t store photos/videos that they received from others. The My Eyes Only folder is protected with a 4-digit passcode which cannot be reset if lost, so if a user forgets their passcode, there is no way of recovering content that was saved in the folder.
Snapchat Discover is an area within the app that users subscribe to and view content shared by online media outlets, famous people & influencers (social media icons), and other creators. Advertisements and sponsored posts are shown intertwined with content presented in this area. Adult themes and other inappropriate content can be easily found through this area of the app. While you can hide specific channels from appearing within Snapchat Discover, there is no way to ‘turn-off’ Discover all together.
Airbrushed skin, puppy dog ears, flower crowns… sound familiar? Snapchat regularly releases new filters that can be applied to photos and videos taken through the app's camera.
Snap-Scores and Streaks
Every Snapchat user has a ‘Snap Score’, this is a numerical score attached to the user's profile based upon their Snapchat activity. Put simply, the higher the score- the more active that user is on Snapchat. To see a user’s Snap Score open the app, click on the little bitmoji (character) at the top left hand side of the screen, and look at the number shown towards the top of the screen. Teens compete for the highest Snap-Score amongst their friends.
A Snap-Streak is developed when two friends exchange content through Snapchat daily for 100 or more days. A streak is signified by a 100 emoji next to the streak contacts name. Young users take this very seriously and the prospect of losing their Snap Streak status with a contact can cause mayhem.
There is the ability to link other apps in with Snapchat. Anonymous Q&A or feedback apps are an example. Apps like YOLO can be linked with Snapchat and allow users to accept anonymous responses to questions that they pose to individuals or groups through Snapchat. The combination of anonymity and disappearing content can set a tone for cyber bullying and inappropriate or highly personal conversation topics.
What are the Risks?
Snapchat is a popular app for sending nudes or risky content. Teens often view the disappearing content feature as a safeguard protecting them from having their private photographs sent around. This is of course not the case, and there are various methods that recipients will use to record and retain snaps that they are sent.
The location sharing features of Snapchat introduces risks regarding the privacy of users. A current behavioural trend amongst teen Snapchat users is to give friends and partners access to their location through Snap Map as a testament to the significance of their relationship. This becomes particularly risky where users are meeting people through social media platforms such as Instagram, establishing an online relationship, and then moving the conversation over to Snapchat, where the new connection is able to see their location.
Some of the content available through Snapchat’s Discover is not appropriate for young users. In addition, it’s important to remember that the Snapchats your child receives are unmoderated. Once your child has opened a snap it will disappear, meaning you won’t have visibility over the type of photos/videos that they’re being sent. Some users create Snapchat accounts for the purpose of sharing pronographic or explicit content with their followers. Be mindful that online blogs or social media accounts listing the ‘best pornstar Snapchat accounts’ are easily located online.
Again, due to the disappearing content feature and the ability to link anonymous feedback apps, Snapchat can be a stomping ground for cyberbullying. The app does have in-platform tools to help users manage negative or unwanted communication through the platform. Here you can find step-by-step instructions on how to block and report another Snapchat user.
How Can I Make Snapchat Safer for My Child?
Make Content and Respect a Talking Point
Have proactive conversations about permanency and distribution when it comes to sharing content online. It’s important to talk to even young children about the fact that once we share something online, even if it is in a private conversation, there is no way to guarantee that the content won’t be seen by people beyond the intended audience. On the flip side, it’s also important to talk to our children about the importance of respecting the privacy and boundaries of others, and not making attempts to maliciously screen-shot or forward content that could cause another person hurt or embarrassment.
Turn on ‘Ghost Mode’
Ensure your child is not sharing their location information through the app. To do this, you will need to switch their location settings into ‘Ghost Mode’. Instructions on how to activate Ghost Mode are available here.
Give Boundaries for their ‘Friend’ List
Give your child boundaries around who they are/aren’t allowed to friend or follow through Snapchat. Snapchat can be a great platform to communicate and share day-to-day experiences with close friends, but it is not one we recommend for communicating with people they don’t know well.
Don’t Allow Linked Anonymous Feedback Apps
We don’t recommend allowing the use of anonymous Q&A of feedback apps through Snapchat. The low parental visibility, lack of moderation, and anonymity is a risky combination.
Account Set-Up and Privacy Controls
If your child is just starting out on Snapchat it can be a good idea to set up their account using your email address, so that you have ultimate control over the account settings. Ensure that privacy settings are properly implemented (see this guide) and where appropriate, set the pin for their ‘My Eyes Only’ file so that you can maintain visibility over the content stored (instructions here). We recommend that you let your child know that you will be taking these precautions and will from time-to-time, be checking the activity on their account.