Snapchat, a popular social media platform, has become a significant part of the digital world, especially for younger generations.
Much like parent concerns surrounding TikTok's safety, for kids and their mental health, Snapchat also brings up similar worries.
Ranking as the 10th most popular social media platform worldwide, Snapchat reaches 90% of the 13-24-year-old population in over 20 countries.
Understanding Snapchat and its potential risks is crucial for parents to ensure a safer environment for their kids.
Snapchat appeals to the younger audience's desire for self-expression, real-time sharing, and creativity with its unique features such as snaps, stories, Snap Map, lenses/filters, streaks, and Discover content. However, the platform's ephemeral nature, where photos and messages disappear after viewing, raises concerns for parents about their children's safety.
What Is Snapchat?
Snapchat is a multimedia messaging app that allows users to share photos, videos, and text messages, known as 'snaps', with their friends. The unique feature of Snapchat is that snaps disappear from the recipient's device after a few seconds of viewing.
What Parents Need To Know About Snapchat Safety
- Snapchat, a popular social media platform, is particularly popular with younger generations, reaching 90% of the 13-24-year-old population in over 20 countries.
- The fact that photos and messages disappear from the app after viewing can give users a false sense of security and lead them to share sensitive or inappropriate content.
- Parents need to understand the potential risks associated with Snapchat and implement measures to ensure a safer environment for their kids.
Users of Snapchat can create 'stories', which are collections of snaps that can be viewed by their friends for 24 hours. The app also features a 'Snap Map', which shows the location of the user's friends, and 'Discover' content, which includes news and entertainment from various media outlets.
One of the main attractions of Snapchat for younger users is its lenses and filters. Over 250 million Snapchat users engage with augmented reality daily, and the release of new filters doubled Snapchat downloads in 2019.
These features allow users to add fun and creative effects to their snaps, enhancing their self-expression and creativity. While filters are mostly harmless fun, they can sometimes be sources of concern, especially if they are inappropriate or misleading for younger users.
What Is Snapchat's Age Limit?
Snapchat's terms of service require users to be at least 13 years old. However, it's not uncommon for younger users to bypass these age restrictions. In fact, Snapchat reaches 75% of the 13-34-year-old population, indicating a significant number of underage users. This reality underscores the importance of parental guidance and monitoring to ensure the safety of younger users on the platform.
Why Are Parents Concerned About Snapchat?
While Snapchat offers a platform for creativity and social interaction, it also presents several potential risks for younger users.
“Although social media and Apps like Snapchat offer opportunities for social connection and sharing of information that many kids and teens are attracted to, they also come with significant risks of psychological harm and even physical problems.”
Noreen Commella, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist for HYM
These risks range from exposure to inappropriate content to privacy breaches and psychological impacts. Understanding these risks can help parents guide their children to use Snapchat safely and responsibly.
1. Sexting and Inappropriate Content
Snapchat users may feel emboldened to share explicit or inappropriate content, believing it will disappear after viewing. This behavior, known as 'sexting', poses a significant risk for younger users who may be exposed to such content or be pressured into participating. Furthermore, the Discover content, while often informative and entertaining, may sometimes include mature or inappropriate material.
2. Strangers Could Know Your Location
Snapchat's Snap Map feature, which shows the location of friends, can potentially expose users to strangers if not properly managed. Users may inadvertently share their location with unknown individuals, posing a risk to their privacy and safety. Additionally, third-party apps can save snaps without the sender's knowledge, further compromising privacy.
3. Peer Pressure
The social nature of Snapchat, with features like public stories and streaks, can create a sense of peer pressure among younger users. They may feel compelled to participate in certain trends or challenges, share particular types of content, or maintain streaks, driven by a fear of missing out or being left out of their social group.
4. Data Privacy
Like many social media platforms, Snapchat collects data about its users. This information can include location data, device information, and details about user interactions. While Snapchat states that it uses this data to improve services and deliver relevant content, there are concerns about potential misuse or unauthorized access to this information.
Snapchat, like other social media platforms, can be a venue for cyberbullying. The platform's potential for anonymity and the temporary nature of its content can sometimes embolden users to send hurtful or harassing messages. This risk is particularly significant for younger users who may not have the maturity or experience to handle such situations.
6. Screen Time Addiction
With unique features such as streaks, filters, and the ability to share and view snaps, Snapchat can be highly engaging. In fact, users often return to Snapchat over 30 times per day. This high level of engagement can lead to excessive screen time and potential addiction, particularly among younger users. The gamification of staying on the app with streaks can further exacerbate this issue, as users may feel compelled to maintain their streaks at the expense of other activities.
7. Exposure to Drug Culture
Unfortunately, illicit activities such as drug dealing can find their way onto social media platforms, including Snapchat. There have been reports of drug dealers using Snapchat to sell their products, often using coded language or symbols. This exposes young users to drug culture and potential harm. While Snapchat has policies against such activities, the ephemeral nature of snaps makes it challenging to monitor and control this content effectively.
8. Easy Access to Predators
The open nature of Snapchat, combined with its location-sharing feature, Snap Map, can potentially expose young users to predators. If privacy settings are not appropriately managed, strangers can view a user's snaps or even their location. This risk is heightened by the fact that Snapchat is most popular with younger generations, making it a potential target for those seeking to exploit these users.
9. Spread of False Information
Snapchat's Discover feature, while often a source of entertainment and news, can also be a platform for the spread of false information or 'fake news'. This is particularly concerning as Snapchat is a popular source of news for young people. Misinformation can influence users' perceptions and behaviors, leading to potential harm.
10. Body Image Issues
Snapchat's filters, while fun and creative, can also contribute to body image issues. Many filters alter the user's appearance, for example, by smoothing skin, enlarging eyes, or slimming faces. Overuse of these filters can lead to unrealistic beauty standards and dissatisfaction with one's natural appearance, particularly among impressionable young users.
11. In-App Purchases
Snapchat offers in-app purchases for features like replays or special filters. Young users may not fully understand the implications of these purchases, leading to unexpected charges. Furthermore, the social pressure to use these premium features can lead to financial issues, especially if the user has access to a payment method linked to the app.
How To Keep Your Kids Safe On Snapchat
While the potential risks of Snapchat can be concerning, there are steps parents can take to help ensure their children's safety on the platform. These measures range from using Snapchat's parental controls to fostering open communication about digital behavior.
1. Use Snapchat's Parental Controls
Snapchat offers several parental control options that can help create a safer environment for younger users. These include a Family Center where caregivers can see who their children are communicating with on the App as well as privacy settings that allow users to also control who can send them snaps or view their stories. Parents can guide their children in setting up these controls and regularly review them to ensure they remain appropriate.
2. Educate About Snap Map
Parents should educate their children about the potential risks of the Snap Map feature. This includes discussing the importance of not sharing their location with strangers and using the 'Ghost Mode' feature, which hides the user's location from others.
3. Open Communication
Open communication about the potential risks of Snapchat and setting guidelines for its use can help children navigate the platform safely. This includes discussing the impermanence myth of Snapchat, i.e., the fact that content can be saved or screenshot, and the importance of not sharing sensitive or inappropriate content.
4. Monitor Usage
Regular check-ins and understanding who your child communicates with on Snapchat can help ensure their safety. As previously mentioned, Snapchat has a Family Center where caregivers can see who their children are interacting with in the App. This doesn't mean spying on every message should be done, but rather fostering a culture of trust and openness where your child feels comfortable discussing their online experiences with you is encouraged.
5. Stay Updated
Stay updated on digital trends and potential threats. As social media platforms constantly evolve, so do the potential risks they present. By staying informed about the latest developments and updates on platforms like Snapchat, parents can better guide their children on safe and responsible usage.
Keeping kids safe online and with social media is imperative for their psychological health. Social media safety involves ongoing dialogue about social media use, training in social media literacy, and limiting use so as not to interfere with other responsibilities and healthy behaviors. It is also crucial to reduce the potential for exposure to harmful content that depicts violence, cyberbullying, cyberhate, appearance-based social comparison, or encouragement of maladaptive behaviors such as self-harm, substance abuse, and restricted eating.
Noreen Commella, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist for HYM
Snapchat Safety For Kids: Dos And Don'ts
- Do educate yourself about Snapchat and its features. Understanding the platform will help you guide your child on its safe and responsible use.
- Do set up Snapchat's Family Center and parental controls. These controls can help create a safer environment for your child by managing who can send them snaps or view their stories.
- Do discuss the potential risks of Snapchat with your child. Open communication about these risks, including the impermanence myth of Snapchat, can help your child navigate the platform safely.
- Do regularly check in on your child's Snapchat usage. Understanding who your child communicates with and what kind of content they share can help ensure their safety.
- Do stay updated on digital trends and potential threats. As social media platforms evolve, so do the potential risks they present. Staying informed can help you better guide your child on safe and responsible usage.
- Don't ignore the age requirement. Snapchat's terms of service require users to be at least 13 years old. Bypassing these restrictions can expose younger children to content and interactions they may not be ready for.
- Don't overlook the Snap Map feature. While it can help friends stay connected, it also raises privacy concerns. Make sure your child understands the risks and uses features like 'Ghost Mode' to control who can see their location.
- Don't underestimate the pressure of streaks. The concept of 'streaks' can lead to addictive behavior and cause stress for your child. Discuss this with them and encourage a balanced approach to social media use.
- Don't ignore signs of cyberbullying. Snapchat, like other platforms, can be a venue for bullying and harassment. If your child seems upset after using the app or is reluctant to discuss their Snapchat experiences, it could be a sign that they're being bullied.
- Don't assume your kids know that snaps can't be saved. While Snapchat's content is designed to disappear after viewing, it can be saved or screenshot without the sender's knowledge. Remind your child of this to discourage them from sharing sensitive or inappropriate content.