What Parents need to know About Snapchat

Snapchat is the next thing. More and more teens are using this self-destructing messaging app. Snapchat allows the user to send a message or image and give it up to a 10 second lifespan. There are some serious security and privacy issues with this application.

What are the Risks?

The majority of Snapchats are sent in a frivolous and fun manner with the most common topics for Snapchat messages being to document meals about to be eaten and funny faces to friends. The main selling point to young people of this app, is the way images self destruct and this has led parents groups and online communities to flag the potential for cyber bullying and sexting type activity.

We generally advise young people to take a screen capture of posts or texts they deem offensive or inappropriate. In the case of Snapchat, screen captures can be difficult to perform as the Snapchat app requires the user to keep one finger on the screen (on certain devices) to view the image. If a user does manage to make a screen capture, the sender of the image is notified. This feature could dissuade teens and children from even attempting to screen capture an offensive message. This could lead to offline bullying which most parents would like to avoid.

The temporary nature of Snapchat messages could lead some teens to get into hot water for sending ‘sexts’ or sexually suggestive images and text messages. Research has shown that sexting can be very upsetting emotionally, especially if the messages go astray, ending up in the wrong hands. Even though images disappear from the Snapchat app, it doesn’t necessarily mean that screen grabs weren’t taken which could be shared on other social media platforms.

What can you do?

The best defense is to discuss the risks with your child and try to agree on what you both think is an acceptable way to use it. Make sure the line between acceptable and inappropriate use is clear. Discuss sanctions if you feel it would help but remember that the most important thing as a parent is to be there to help if things go wrong. Sometimes the best way to keep communications channels open is to remove the punishment from the equation.

But one issue you should definitely talk about is how permanent is permanent deletion? A very quick trip into YouTube land searching for ‘Snapchat hacks’ brought back a long list of entries, detailing everything from how to bypass the 10 second countdown to how to capture screen shots of images without the sender being notified. Teens need to be aware that nothing is 100% private online. Even if an app developer claims messages or data is wiped or deleted, we can’t always guarantee that this is actually the case.

In their Terms and Conditions, Snapchat states that “Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is received and opened by the recipient …we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case.” This should be a statement to concern Snapchat users and their parents.

Like most other web apps, users have the choice of using them to communicate with existing friends or with the wider world. You should talk with your child about the best way to manage this. Discuss the implications of opening themselves up to SnapChats from their whole address book. A friends list can be set up so messages can be sent and received only from designated friends. As with any online interactions, its usually safer to use snapchat with a selected bunch of trusted people.

How can risks be controlled

Snapchat is not the first or the last app of this type, others include Viber (messages and voice calls), Facebook messaging and WhatsApp. The same rules should apply to all online interactions, only share data with those that you trust in real life, think before you click and report any unsavory data or messages to a trusted adult.

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About the Author

Clayton Cranford
Clayton Cranford is a retired Sergeant from Orange County Sheriff's Department in California and owner of Total Safety Solutions LLC. Clayton is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement educators on social media, child safety, and behavioral threat assessments. Clayton is the author of the definitive book on cyber safety for families, “Parenting in the Digital World.” Clayton has more than 20 years of teaching experience and was awarded the 2015 National Bullying Prevention Award from the School Safety Advocacy Council, and the 2015 American Legion Medal of Merit. Clayton was a member of the County's Behavioral Threat Assessment Team, Crisis Negotiation Team, School Resource Officer program, and Juvenile Bureau.