You may have heard of Snapchat. It’s a popular messaging app whose unique feature is that it self-destructs photos and videos (“snaps”) after sending them. Users can only view their snaps once before they disappear.
Millions of teens use Snapchat every day. In fact, along with Instagram, it is one of the leading social media platforms among adolescents, according to a national survey from the University of Chicago. The study showed that 75% of American teenagers use Snapchat regularly. And more recent research has shown that teens use Snapchat mainly between their closest friends.
The app’s design seems intendedly playful and fun. You can add emojis, stickies and “doodles” to photos. You can superimpose bunny ears or a cat nose on your face—and make it animated. Indeed, many teens do use Snapchat just to exchange silly selfies or share lighthearted moments.
But parents should still be cautious about Snapchat—for the following reasons.
Dangers of Snapchat: Sexting and Cyberbullying
Snapchat’s disappearing feature makes it particularly easy for teens to share inappropriate content without getting in trouble.
In fact, some say the founders of the app initially created it for sexting. Since the picture or video will erase itself after a particular length of time (the default is 3 seconds, though users can extend it), individuals feel comfortable sending content they wouldn’t normally send via regular text messages.
For the same reason, cyberbullies feel comfortable provoking their victims on Snapchat. After all, the incriminating evidence will disappear in a few seconds.
However, there’s a catch: teens can always screenshot the snap before it disappears. So any risqué, embarrassing or harmful message sent to a peer can be sent around and shared with dozens of friends without the sender even knowing. Intimate photos, in particular, can be used in the future for manipulation and blackmail. So even if your teen daughter thinks that it’s perfectly harmless to send a racy photo of herself to her boyfriend, tell her to think again.
In fact, Evolve’s Admissions Coordinator, Jennifer Twist, tells parents to inform their adolescents: “Imagine that any photo or post of yours can end up as a newspaper headline. If you’re not comfortable with that, don’t share it.”
Anything teens put out on social media can be shared one day with the entire world. Even things they put on Snapchat.
Other Snapchat Features
While Snapchat’s age limit is 13+, Common Sense Media rates it as 16+ for the “age-inappropriate” content that teens are exposed to within the app, mainly through its Discover feature. Through Discover, teens can view Snaps from media outlets, promotional companies, and major influencers. Such content may not always be family-friendly. In fact, Collin Kartchner, founder of the #SavetheKids movement, has compiled a list of Snaps featured in Discover that glorify porn, sex, suicide, drugs, and other inappropriate topics.
As he once wrote, “Letting kids 12+ download Snapchat is like sending your kids to a PG movie and suddenly adult content pops up like this. You’d be ticked probably, yeah? Probably talk to the manager, demand a refund, make some phone calls? Why aren’t we doing this with apps our kids use?”
One of the most problematic features of Snapchat, though, is its ability to get teens addicted to the app through Snapstreaks. You get a Snapchat “streak” by sending Snaps to a particular contact every day for more than three consecutive days. The longer your streak, the more you want to keep it up. And the more pressure there is not to lose it. Streaks can go on for weeks, months and yes, even years. They’ve become ways to measure friendships, and teens are becoming obsessed about maintaining their streak. Even if it means logging into Snapchat every single day for 200 days—and counting. Some have even shared their Snapchat password to a friend to keep the streak going on their behalf if they can’t send a snap within a certain 24-hour window. The stress, time, and energy such an activity requires can obviously become unhealthy.
It’s important to monitor teens’ smartphone usage. However, Snapchat is worrisome because it doesn’t save the pictures and messages received. So if you’re concerned that your adolescent might be sending or receiving inappropriate content, you have no way of monitoring what’s going on—unless your teen is screenshotting, as mentioned earlier.
Additionally, its other features – Snapstreaks, Discover, and even the SnapMap (where other Snapchat users can see your teen’s location) can pose risks. Make sure to discuss privacy issues with your teen if they’re using this app, and intervene if you believe they’re spending too much time on it. Smartphone addiction can, at times, go hand-in-hand with certain mental health issues.