Snapchat logo

Snapchat: What it is and how to keep your kids safe without becoming a paranoid parent

You’re a good parent and you’re keen to learn about the latest and greatest mobile apps, software, Internet services and online communication tools so you can keep your kids safe and secure without being seen as over-protective or overbearing.

Yet you keep reading things in the mainstream media about phone and tablet apps which you have a hunch your teens (and younger) are using, but you’ve only heard a little of – and none of it too flattering at that.

Enter Snapchat, an instant messaging app for mobile devices which really puts the emphasis on ‘instant’. ‘Ephemeral’ even. What’s it all about, and should you be concerned about what you’ve read about sexting or nefarious people finding out exactly where your kids are?

What is Snapchat?

Snapchat has been around for nearly six years now, launching in September 2011.

In basic terms, it’s software which users install on a smartphone or Internet-connected tablet, allowing them to send image and video messages to their contacts.

Designed to mimic real-life conversations which are spontaneous and don’t last beyond the meeting, Snapchat communication automatically deletes itself within seconds of being sent.

That said, other Snapchat features allow contacts to save multimedia content in a private area or publish a “My Story” curated set of photos and videos.

Who Uses Snapchat?

Snapchat has primarily been used by 20 and 30-somethings, although it’s clear many teenagers and even younger children with access to mobile devices are also using the service.

Is there a minimum age limit for Snapchat?

Snapchat is not supposed to be used by under-13s, and there is a rudimentary age-verification screen upon signing up to the service. However, there is nothing technically in place to stop under-13s accessing the service.

What is Snapchat’s appeal?

It may be thought that the ‘instant delete’ feature is one of Snapchat’s main draws, but in fact the element of fun and spontaneity seems to far outweigh the relative anonymity or untraceable nature of the app.

Is sexual content/sexting a problem on Snapchat?

Despite the scaremongering, it is generally believed that Snapchat is not widely used for sending sexually explicit content to other people.

In 2014, a university research team found that less than 1 in 50 people considered using Snapchat primarily for ‘sexting’, although 14.2% did say they had used it for this purpose at some point in the past.

What’s important to note is the survey was conducted amongst adults. There is much less reason to believe minors have any significant involvement in sexually-related content on Snapchat.

Does Snapchat content really disappear?

The creators of Snapchat have gone to great lengths to build systems which remove and destroy all shared content after the set period of time (generally, within seconds).

However, the company has stated it cannot guarantee that all content is deleted or is unrecoverable.

In addition, it’s possible to use other technology, such as a mobile phone/tablet’s screen capture function, or even another camera, to store images which would otherwise be erased.

Does Snap Map reveal my child’s exact location?

Critics of Snapchat’s new mapping features have raised concerns that anyone can see the exact location of photos and videos which have been publicly shared to Snapchat.

Snapchat stresses that location sharing is switched off by default, and has to be activated by the user for Snap Map to work in this way. Additionally, it’s not possible to share your location with anyone who is not already a ‘friend’ on the service.

This means it’s important to make children aware of who they are adding to Snapchat as friends.

Is Snapchat used for bullying?

Bullying and harassment of any kind is strictly forbidden by the Snapchat terms of service, but that doesn’t mean it can’t and won’t happen.

It’s entirely possible for contacts to use the service to send unpleasant, hateful or threatening messages.

In response, there are many ways of dealing with this kind of issue, both within Snapchat and in general.

These include blocking offending users, reporting them to Snapchat, telling a trusted adult of the abuse, or (in extreme cases) reporting them to the police.

There seems to be little evidence that Snapchat is any more likely to be used for cyberbullying as any other online platform.

Where can I get more information about Snapchat’s features, security and privacy?

We’ve provided the basic information to get you up to speed on Snapchat.

If you want to know more, we recommend these resources:

What do I do now?

Try not to get stressed out about these online tools, and don’t single out any one as ‘the enemy’ or the one to invest energy in understanding.

New communication tools are coming out all the time – your child may use some of them and not others. You can’t possibly keep up with every piece of software which comes out, but you can adopt an overarching approach to Internet safety, security and privacy.

Talk to your kids about online safety. They may well already have had such lessons at school, but you are their primary role model and they need to hear your views.

Don’t lecture, judge, snoop into what they’re doing or try to ban them from using apps like Snapchat.

Instead, come alongside them and have simple conversations about what sort of things they like doing online, and if they have ever had any concerns or worries about things they’ve seen or shared on social media or other web sites.

Be the kind of parent who they feel they can come to if they’re upset or unsure about how safe they are online. You may never have their technical prowess or understanding, but you have life experience and are their chief protector.

The basic rules of staying safe haven’t changed – they’ve just adapted for 21st century living.

Make sure they know you’re there for them, no matter what.