Do you remember when it was difficult keeping up with all the new cartoon shows our kids used to watch?
Staying on top of new programs seemed almost impossible back then. Now, fast forward a few years, and not a lot has changed. This is especially true during the teen years when social media is involved. New apps are hitting the market every day, and for many of us it is an overwhelming task to understand everything our kids are downloading.
Chances are, if you have teenagers or tweens in the house you have heard the word “Snapchat.” This trending app is regularly included in our children's social media diet, but many parents might not fully understand the ins and outs of this disappearing messaging app. What follows is an in-depth look at Snapchat to help parents understand why it appeals to our kids.
Snapchat (recently renamed "Snap') is one of the fastest growing social media apps and features “disappearing” messages. It was created by a small group of students attending Stanford University to “accommodate the broadest range of self-expression, while giving users a safe and enjoyable experience.” For the most part, children are using the app to share innocent photos or selfies that they find entertaining. The app lets them send short videos or photos to friends and after the message is viewed, it disappears. Teens normally embrace the whimsical and entertaining aspects of Snapchat with many believing it offers a more authentic way to communicate without the concerns often associated with traditional social media.
The Positive Side of Snapchat
There are many pros and cons to using Snapchat as a social media tool. Here are just a few of its benefits:
Snapchat can be a surprising source of news for our teens and tweens. Yes, Snapchat has become a breaking news outlet and source for up-to-date stories. This app debuted its own news program called "Good Luck America," allows users to “discover” content from top media outlets, and it has re-invigorated citizen news reporting.
It allows users to tell or customize their "Story." Snapchat allows users to select their favorite photos and string them together to design a chronological narrative. It also has a variety of amusing filters and add-ons to make photos stand out. It is fun, engaging, and actually helps kids find their voice while connecting with friends near and far.
There is less “poser” pressure because the photos “disappear.” After a set amount of time the “snaps” disappear, which reduces the worry of maintaining the perfect digital footprint. Kids enjoy this because they don’t have to scrutinize every post or photo, and it allows them freedom to express themselves more authentically when engaging with their friends.
Promising a False Sense of Security
Due to Snapchat’s ephemeral qualities, teens sometimes buy into a false promise of security when it comes to self-destructing messages. After all, teens are notorious for making questionable decisions before considering all the repercussions. The belief that there will be no digital footprint left behind after “snaps” of racy selfies, cruel remarks, or silly cat photos have been posted has lured more than one kid into making poor choices with this app. This false sense of security can cause permanent damage to their online and offline reputation.
Unfortunately, many cyberbullying and sexting incidents have left parents wondering about the online safety of Snapchat. According to CNN, 94 percent of adults “underestimate the amount of fighting that happens on social media.” In fact, it is believed that cyberbullying rates have tripled within the last few years, with 87 percent of our kids experiencing or witnessing this digital phenomenon.
Here is a quick rundown of some surprising statistics about Snapchat users:
It is believed that 25 percent of Snapchatters send “sensitive content” regularly including sexts or cruel messages.
47 percent of users use screenshots and 52 percent have had others take screenshots of their messages.
10 percent of Snapchatters do so with the intent to embarrass the sender.
Even though the messages are supposed to vanish and be deleted after being viewed, both parties can easily outsmart Snapchat by taking screenshots. If a child happens to sext or send an embarrassing photo there is always a chance that it will become public. This may even escalate into digital aggression or shaming.
Surviving Snapchat: A Parent’s Guide
Raising teens is complicated enough, but introducing social media to the formula produces some startling situations. To empower our teens and help them avoid the common pitfalls associated with Snapchat, please consider the following five tips:
1. Help children understand social media etiquette and how words can hurt.
2. Let kids know that it is alright to say “no” to a sext request.
3. Encourage open communication about social media and the dangers lurking
behind the glow of their favorite devices.
4. Stress that they should only follow friends they know in real life and to be wary
of requests from strangers.
5. Tell them to always notify someone if they encounter any form of bullying
online (only 1 out of 10 children will seek help from an adult if they witness
Hillary Smith loves technology and hasn’t met an app that didn’t catch her attention. After graduating from the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism,
Hillary began a career as a freelance writer focusing on the challenges of digital parenting. She works out every day and spends time with her children, ages 4 and 7.