If you have teens or tweens in your house, you’ve probably heard about Snapchat — the uber-popular social messaging app that users use to exchange pictures and videos (called snaps) that capture life’s everyday moments.
But while many parents have heard about Snapchat, most of us can admit we don’t know the ins and outs of it. With so many social platforms to keep track of, we’re left scratching our heads over what this latest trend in social media is all about. Is it appropriate for kids? How does it work? Is it safe?
Kristen Kipperman, PhD, a pediatric psychology resident in Akron Children’s Lois and John Orr Behavioral Health Center, sheds light on what curious parents need to know about this popular messaging app … until the next app snaps the spotlight.
Is Snapchat appropriate for kids?
Kids love Snapchat because it’s a fun and creative way to communicate with friends. Instead of text, kids use photos or videos that can be edited with Snapchat’s constantly updated supply of photo filters, lenses and other cool effects to share life’s everyday moments with friends.
Snapchat’s minimum age requirement is 13. Dr. Kipperman agrees with parental guidance on digital safety and appropriate privacy settings, Snapchat can be a safe and fun way for teens age 13 and older to connect with friends.
How can teens use Snapchat safely?
While snaps by default automatically disappear after being viewed, there are ways to save what has been shared. Recipients can take screenshots with their phones or even use another camera to capture snaps.
So, it’s important to reinforce that nothing done online is temporary, and content can be saved and later used against your teen. Remind kids that snaps should never contain inappropriate content (including nude or sexually explicit photos), or something that could get them in trouble or jeopardize future opportunities, such as school admission or employment.
Dr. Kipperman warns about a few Snapchat features to watch out for:
Snapstreaks: Snapstreaks occur when 2 users have snapped back and forth within a 24-hour period for at least 3 days in a row. While Snapstreaks can add to your teen’s overall Snapchat score and help build a bond with friends, Snapstreaks also can come with added pressure and anxiety to keep the streak alive. They also can be a time suck and make kids feel like they constantly have to check in.
Snap Map: Kids can submit snaps to Snap Map, which allows friends to see each other’s location on a map. Snap Map is turned off by default, but once teens opt in, their audience can see their location updated every time they open Snapchat. Teens may be motivated to turn on location settings because photo filters and other effects are based on location.
Snapchat Discover: Teens can subscribe to news feeds created by celebrities, news or entertainment outlets, and other users. While much of the content is harmless, it can be promotional, inappropriate or even outlandish at times.
“When kids sign up for Snapchat, it’s important to make sure their birthday is entered correctly,” warned Dr. Kipperman. “It can alter content that’s directed toward them, especially on Discover pages.”
What parental controls should I initiate?
It can be difficult to monitor your teen’s activity on Snapchat because unlike other social apps, there’s no feed to scroll through. Instead, focus on digital safety and privacy modes.
Dr. Kipperman suggests a few parental controls:
- Ensure Snap Map is turned off. A safer alternative is Ghost Mode, which allows teens to view Snap Map, but their location won’t be visible to anyone else. With Ghost Mode, teens can use the location-based filters without sharing their location to everyone.
- Ensure the default “My Friends” setting is enabled, instead of “Everyone.” That way, your teen can only send and receive media from users they have added to their friends list. Anyone, however, can reach out to your teen and friend them, so talk to your child about only adding real-life friends.
- Manage device-level controls to set a maximum time limit for app use on your teen’s phone.
Snapchat is one of the most popular apps that teens use today, but new ones are popping up all the time. That’s why it’s important to communicate with kids about digital safety, what’s appropriate to share and time management on any platform.
“Keep an open dialogue about what your teens are doing online and what they’re receiving in return, while setting clear expectations on usage,” said Dr. Kipperman. “When kids engage in any social media platform, it opens them up to scrutiny from bullies, online predators and other dangers.”
If you think your child is struggling significantly due to social media, Akron Children’s Lois and John Orr Family Behavioral Health Center is offering mental health services via telehealth. Call 330-543-5015 to schedule an appointment.