Everything a Parent Needs to Know About SNAPCHAT
Image via AndroidCentral
Back in January the internet and parenting community was taken by storm by a video made by Brad Knudson, a father who was frustrated and heartbroken by the bullying of his 14-year-old daughter, Deidra.
Deidra, who is adopted and African American, had been sent several messages containing insults and racial slurs from two boys from her school. The messages had been sent via Snapchat, an app where once messages are viewed, they disappear for good.
Deidra’s case is unfortunately not uncommon. Bullies across the country are taking their abuse into the digital world, and anonymous and “disappearing” messaging apps like Snapchat make it easier than ever. In fact, according to DoSomething.com, the organization behind the National Bullying Prevention Month, over 80% of young people think that it’s easier to get away with bullying online.
One of the main reasons is awareness. New apps come out every day, and for many parents it’s not possible to keep up with every new website or app their child is hearing about in school, seeing their friends use, or even trying out themselves.
But there are apps out there that stand out from the crowd, and have become popular—and potentially dangerous—for teens. Snapchat is one of them.
In this article, a parent can learn everything they need to know about Snapchat:
What Is Snapchat?
In short, Snapchat is a “disappearing” messaging app. It allows users to send photos or videos accompanied by short text messages, which can be viewed for a short amount of time.
Snapchat is the fastest growing social media app. surpassing even Instagram, which has been ranked as the number-one favorite app for teens:
- There are an estimated 82 million users, with a majority of them between the age of 13 to 25 years old.
- There are roughly 350 million posts or “snaps” sent daily.
- Four out of every ten teens frequent Snapchat.
- Snapchat has equaled Facebook for numbers of photos shared.
The app was created in 2011 by four students at Stanford University. Their goal is to “accommodate the broadest range of self expression, while giving Snapchat users a safe and enjoyable experience.”
However, the “safe” part of Snapchat has often been debated. The app has become a hotbed for sexting and cyberbullying among all ages, in part thanks to how it operates.
So How Does It Work?
One of the main reasons Snapchat is so popular among teens is that it’s not about sharing photos with the world.
Unlike Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., your content isn’t available for all your “Friends” or “Followers” to see. You choose who you send messages to, and once it’s viewed, it’s gone forever… Or at least, it’s supposed to be.
- Snapchat users “Snap” a photo or video with their phone’s camera, and can add a text message or filter.
- Senders choose how long the message will appear, and who they will send the message to.
- The message is then sent to their friend(s) through Snapchat.
- Once the message is viewed, it is deleted.*
Since it’s inception, Snapchat has also added a number of new features, including:
- Snapchat Stories: These allow users the option of posting their photos and videos to be viewed by everyone or just their friends for 24 hours.
- Text Messaging: Snapchat users can also send text messages to friends when using the chat feature and once it is viewed by both parties the message will be deleted.
- Video Replays: Once every day, a user can choose to replay a video message.
*Although the messages are supposed to “self-destruct” after being delivered, both parties can easily take a screenshot of the message. Snapchat alerts a person when someone has taken a screenshot of their message, but there is no way to prevent them from doing so.
What Do Teens Say About Snapchat?
Teens typically use Snapchat for fun, “silly and mundane” images.
- “It’s cool, the pictures disappear, and you can just send them like you’d send a text.” — Michaela, 14 years old.
- “I use it to send amusing things to my friends that require more than a text. They aren’t things I want to post on Facebook or Instagram and keep forever.” — Kevin, 18 years old.
Sometimes, however, it can used to show “who’s cool” and “who’s not.”
- “Sometimes it’s like a popularity contest. Like if you’re out at a party you would snap a big group of people and send it to someone and that’s supposed to say oh I’m with a lot of people, I’m popular just like if on Facebook you post photos of a party you went to.” — Mary, 20 years old.
Teens often post “stories” of who they are with, what activities they are doing, and this can result in children feeling left out and upset. Teens know this and will intentionally leave certain people out to inflict pain.
And, as the Knudson’s and countless other parents have learned the hard way, Snapchat is a favored vehicle for sexting and cyberbullying:
- “[Most people won’t] say anything risky in text messages, and I think bullies have the same method: They’re saving it for Snapchat. I have received hurtful Snapchats, but I have no proof that they ever said anything to me, because the picture went away in 10 seconds” — Ruby, eighth grader.
Can Snapchat Harm A Child’s Online Reputation?
For teens, Snapchat offers a false sense of security with it’s disappearing messages.
In the case of Deidre, her father was able to record one of the bullying snaps by taking a video of it on his own phone. He was able to use this as evidence when confronting the boy’s father.
Although that escalated the situation rather than solve, it’s a clear example of how easily content on Snapchat can be saved and stick around for a long time to come.
The possibility of an inappropriate or explicit snap getting saved and shared can be disastrous.
- Snapchat itself admits that up to 25 percent of users may send sensitive content on a regular basis “experimentally.”
- The Pew Internet And American Life Project found that 15 percent of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 acknowledge they received a “sext” from someone they know.
- 47 percent of users admit to using screenshots and 52 percent note that others have used screenshots of their messages.
- About 4 percent of users acknowledge using separate cameras or phones to document a Snapchat, like the Knudson’s did to document the cyberbullying affecting their daughter.
- 10 percent of Snapchat users have done so to embarrass the sender.
- There are also questions about the privacy Snapchat offers users. There are apps on the market which override the ephemeral quality Snapchat promotes. These apps allow people to share images or locate hidden photos on a device.
- There are sites and blogs dedicated to sharing leaked Snapchat images.
- Hackers have been known to publish thousands of snaps mainly of 13 to 17 year olds.
Other Snapchat Concerns:
- Age Restriction: Children under the age of 13 are not allowed to register. However, like all social media networks, it is possible to lie about a person’s real age when registering.
- Connecting With Stranger: Snapchat helps users find friends by connecting to the phone’s Contacts. If someone finds a teen’s number posted publicly on social media, they can use it to add the teen on Snapchat.
What Parents Need To Know About Snapchat:
- Parents need to understand that kids enjoy Snapchat, because “it is one of the only apps that is relatively private.” Even parents who do have access to their children’s Snapchat are unlikely to see the messages sent and received through the app.
- The main appeal of Snapchat appears to be the ephemeral qualities provided by the disappearing messages and the desire to maintain a cleaner digital footprint with a concern about social permanence.
- CNN released information that shows a disparity “between what parents think about their kids’ posts and how children are feeling. 60 percent of parents underestimated how lonely, worried and depressed their kids were and 94 percent underestimate the amount of fighting that happens on social media”.
- Parents tend to also be clueless to the subtle aggression shown in Snapchats and other images shared on social media by intentionally not tagging someone included in photos or sharing images with the goal of hurting others not invited.
- Sexting is a real concern when it comes to Snapchat. There is new evidence that shows sexting is now considered a normal part of adolescence.
- The FBI warns parents that pedophiles are using Snapchat to solicit images from young teens. These images are used for personal use or are sold to others in the underground world of predators.
- Cyberbullies love this app, because it is difficult to document cruel messages.
- Parents can be held liable for a child’s cyberbullying if they fail to take appropriate action. The father involved in the Knudson’s bullying case led to the bully’s father being dismissed from his job for his poor reaction to interfere with his children’s actions.
Similar to Brad Knudson’s plea on YouTube, awareness can make a big impact in how children use this app.
In regards to his daughter’s bullying incident, he said it best, “I was afraid if I don’t get this out, if I don’t get people to understand what’s going on here, especially with this individual, that my daughter isn’t going to say anything to me.”