If you interact with teenagers, you’ve probably heard of Snapchat. And, if you’re a parent of said teenagers, you should learn about it—Snapchat’s biggest user demographic is between 13 and 23 years old.
Snapchat is a social media tool that allows the user to send a picture, video, or text (known as a “snap”) to their followers. Senders set the amount of time that the image can be viewed—from one to ten seconds—and after that point, the image is deleted from the viewers’ devices. In theory, this seems like a positive step for privacy, and can help alleviate parents’ concerns over images of their children spreading around the Internet.
Why Does Snapchat Appeal to Teens?
Why does this method of communication appeal to your child? Hopefully, you’ve taught your kids the essential safety lessons about online privacy, and are at least aware that certain images should not be shared. However, this is contrary to what kids want to do. They want to be in the moment, sharing their feelings online for all their friends to see. Snapchat also relieves the need for the perfectly framed “selfie”; kids can take a quirky picture of themselves believing that their friends will only be able to view it for a few seconds.
Privacy Concerns and the Myth of the Deleted Snap
There are, however, broader concerns for parents. Viewers can grab a screenshot when the snap arrives, forever storing and sharing it. Because Snapchat delivers a text message to recipients announcing they have a snap to view, recipients can prepare to grab the image or video for storage. In December 2013, Snapchat added a replay feature with its operating system update, allowing users to replay one image from the last 24 hours. Only one replay per day is currently possible with this feature.
Snapchat also explains on its privacy page that the company temporarily collects and stores the snaps until all followers have viewed the snap. Law enforcement has issued subpoenas requiring Snapchat to turn over unopened snaps relevant to a case. In addition, a forensic software company admitted to being able to recover snaps taken on Android, and was working on that same ability with iOS devices.
Certainly there is little stopping a third-party app from providing consumers with the means to store snaps. Therefore, it seems that despite what teens think, Snapchat does not have the ephemeral effect they believe it does. What is a parent to do?
Six Steps for Social Media Safety
First, realize that Snapchat is just a tool that cannot, by itself, turn your kid into a sexter. Any social media platform can be a mechanism that amplifies what your teen wants to share. Talking with your teen about what is and isn’t appropriate is a crucial first step.
Second, prohibiting your child from using Snapchat does not alleviate the problem of privacy concerns. If your child’s friends use it—and with Snapchat sending 350 million photos every day, they probably do—they can easily snap a photo of your child for use.
Third, become socially savvy. Do not cede this ground to your child because you think it’s something for teens. Social media is not complicated; it just seems that way sometimes because each platform is constantly being updated and reinvented. If you need to get started on social media, Amazon has many eBooks that you can instantly download to learn more. My book, Daily Actions for Social Media Mastery, will provide daily steps for you to take to become socially savvy. Stay one step ahead of your teen.
Fourth, make your child socially savvy. Your child absolutely needs to learn how to use social media effectively because as they grow up, they will most likely be networking for the best internships, jobs, and even life partners that way. Preventing your teen from using social media does not prevent worrisome behavior. Talk to your children!
Fifth, monitor your teen’s social media activity. I used to joke with my now-16 year old that I believed in the right to privacy once he reached 18. In reality, I practice the art of amused parent. We joke about some of the snaps he sends (all appropriate, but goofy), and I try not to act like a stodgy worrywart. I admit that finding that balance can be tricky, and each parent will find his or her own way. The important part is to work at it rather than shut down social media for your teen. Having a policy of open communication (without judgment) goes a long way in showing your kids that there’s a healthy balance between what should be public and what should be private.
Sixth, establish a few golden rules (or “guidelines” if you prefer) about social media.
Golden Rule 1: Explain that nothing shared is ever private or completely deleted. Therefore, they should never send a snap that they wouldn’t want you or a future employer finding. Because we do not develop the skill to think in terms of long-term benefits until we are about 25, you may just need to tell your child that this is one rule that must be followed, and can have serious consequences if they do not.
Golden Rule 2: Explain that they should never share an image of another person without that person’s consent. Obviously people who post stories on Facebook about themselves are inviting shares, but snaps assume a level of privacy. They should also learn that sharing embarrassing images is never cool. Reinforce this with a role reversal by asking them how they would feel if others did that to them.
Social media requires an awareness of societal norms and trends that we may not have realized we’d need to follow as our kids grow up. I encourage you to embrace, rather than shut out, social media. While Snapchat might not be your platform of choice, it’s still important to understand. Establish an open communication policy with your child. In the long run, you may find that social media gives you great ways to share memories with your kids as they become busy teens.