Snapchat is a multimedia messaging app that burst onto the social media scene in 2011 and quickly became a favourite among teens and tweens. In 2020, the app counted over 280 million daily users. Teens and tweens love Snapchat’s more casual feel as opposed to, say, Instagram’s more curated and aspirational aesthetic. They also like that images and videos are only available for recipients to view for a short time before they disappear (more on this later). Confused? Not to worry. Here’s everything parents need to know about Snapchat and whether it’s safe for teens and tweens.
What is Snapchat?
Snapchat is an iOS and Android mobile app that allows users to send messages, photos, and videos that are supposed to disappear after a short time. Its non-permanent nature drew younger users to the app because they could share content without it remaining on their profile afterwards. Although, as we’ll discuss later, nothing ever really disappears on the internet. Snapchat now also includes live video chatting, anime-like “Bitmoji” avatars, augmented reality (AR) lenses, original video series, and the ability to share chronological stories with followers. If the “story” feature sounds familiar, it may be because it was famously cloned by Instagram. Snapchat is known to frequently update its features, so it’s likely these capabilities can and will change.
How does Snapchat work?
As mentioned above, Snapchat updates its features and functionality even more frequently than other social media apps, so it’s difficult to create a permanent guide on how to use it. That said, here are some basics:
To get started, your child will download Snapchat from your mobile phone’s app store. Open the app and click “sign up” to create a new account. They’ll be asked to enter your name, create a unique username, and choose a secure password. Kids should also enter a phone number and verify it for account security, and they can choose whether to give Snapchat access to their contact book to help find friends and family already on the app.
The app contains a camera screen similar to your phone’s regular camera screen with a capture button at the bottom. Your kids use this to take photos or videos in the app, which they can then share privately with individual or group contacts, post to your story, save as a memory to view later, or download to their camera roll. Before sharing or saving content, your kids have the chance to decorate their photo or video with text, special effects, doodles, stickers, links, and more.
When your teen or tween takes a “snap” (the app’s in-house term for photos or videos), they’ll also be able to flip through a variety of lenses (filters) and apply them before taking a photo. Lenses can do everything from giving photos a retro feel to making your kids look like a cartoon dog or project augmented reality animations onto their screen.
What type of content is on Snapchat?
Here are the main types of content parents will find on the app:
Chats on Snapchat can be between individuals or groups of contacts. They can contain text, photos, and videos, and be set to disappear after a chosen length of time. That said, it’s important to remember someone could always take a screenshot or photo/video of your child’s content before it disappears, so don’t count on it truly being gone forever.
Discover is Snapchat’s version of the newsfeed. On it, are select stories from people your child follows alongside content from popular influencers, celebrities, brands, and publishing partners, such as new sites and sports channels.
Memories are snaps and stories your teen or tween can choose to save for later rather than send to friends or post right away. They won’t disappear and they can reopen them at any time to edit or review.
Snapstreaks keep track of how many consecutive days two users have sent content to each other on the app. To extend the streak, both parties must share a snap that day.
Snap Map allows kids to view snaps submitted from all over the world, including ones tagged to specific sporting events, concerts, celebrations, breaking news, and more. They can also use Snap Map to see what’s happening near their current location and which of their friends is nearby.
Snap Map is a feature parents will want to discuss with tweens and teens as it can reveal a user’s current or recent locations. The default setting is “ghost,” which means Snapchat doesn’t share their location, but many teens and tweens like to turn it on to track their friends.
Is Snapchat safe for teens, tweens, and kids?
According to Snapchat’s rules, a user must be at least 13 years old to use the app. However, as with most social media platforms, this age requirement is easily circumvented. Snapchat isn’t appropriate for kids, but it can be used relatively safely by older tweens and teens with varying degrees of parental supervision.
The biggest concerns about Snapchat for teens and tweens relate to privacy and the ability to share and receive inappropriate content that can be difficult to monitor if it’s set to disappear. If your kids use Snapchat, it’s good to have a conversation about the types of photos and videos that are okay to share and the fact that nothing ever really disappears online.
How can I monitor my kids’ activity on Snapchat?
Monitoring your kids’ activity on Snapchat can be more difficult than on other social media apps (which is part of why teens and tweens like it so much). This is because much of Snapchat’s content is shared in private messages or groups and quickly self-destructs. There’s no way to be sure you’re seeing all of your kids’ activity, even if you frequently check their account.
The main way parents can make Snapchat safer is to set strong privacy controls that restrict who can see kids’ stories and locations. Outside of close family and friends, tweens and teens shouldn’t be sharing their location at all.
Snapchat’s mental health effects
Some research has shown Snapchat can be a trigger for anxiety and depression, particularly for kids who use it over two hours a day. Both girls and boys are also at risk of body image issues from seeing heavily filtered photos and videos and pressure to look “good” in snaps. Cyberbullying is also a potential issue and can easily go unnoticed by parents, since messages can quickly disappear.
At the same time, Snapchat can have a positive effect on mental health, like boosting creativity, encouraging kids to build and maintain friendships (especially during the COVID-19 era), and using it as a fun means of stress relief. Since snaps aren’t permanent on the app, many teens and tweens feel freer to show their silly and quirky sides.
How can I use Snapchat with my kids?
Parents can easily interact with their teens and tweens on the app by adding them as a friend. This will allow you to send snaps to each other and build a Snapstreak, which can be a fun form of bonding. You can also have fun playing with different lenses and effects together and capturing content on family outings.
Snapchat and online safety
Here are some tips for staying safe on Snapchat:
- Check your kids’ privacy settings
- Help your kids set a strong password
- Verify your child’s email and phone number in the app
- Set up two-factor authentication
- Discuss keeping contacts to family and friends
- Show your kids how to report abuse on Snapchat and encourage them to come to you with anything that upsets or scares them
- Set your kids’ Snap Map setting to “ghost”
- Don’t forget about screenshots. Remind your kids that anything posted online is forever.
Snapchat can be a fun app for teens and tweens to connect with friends and express their more creative side. But, like all social media apps, it comes with risks. It’s important for parents to speak with their kids about the potential dangers of Snapchat and how to use it safely.
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