Is Snapchat safe for our kids?

Q: My daughter says using Snapchat is safe because the photo message disappears after a few seconds. True?

A: Snapchat has become a hot app for message-happy teens who love to communicate. This app, available for iPhone and Android devices, is a real-time picture chatting message tool enjoying more than 50 million “snaps” a day. Users take snapshots (or “snaps”) and send them to each other in lieu of text messages. They can exchange short videos, too.

One of Snapchat’s exciting nuances is a promise the message only lasts for a short time. Users can set a timer for their photo message, which will disappear once opened in a few seconds.

While kids enjoy sending fun photos (the app even allows users to add drawings and photos captions to their snaps), some speculate that disappearing messages give kids a false sense of security. Concerned parents worry that apps like this may provoke risky, impulsive behavior and increase sexting between teens.

Like most apps, this one is generally a fun, creative way for kids to connect. Whether it affects a teen’s impulse control will have more to do with the teen than the app.

That said, parents need to remind kids that there is always a risk that their private information, messages, and photos can go public -whether they are supposed to disappear or not.

Download the app and try it to understand how it works. Then, go over these basic reminders with kids that apply to Snapchat, a similar app by Facebook called Poke, and many other photo messaging apps teens love to use.

  • Nothing is gone forever. While Snapchat promises photos will disappear, the recipient can save a screenshot if they are quick. Senders also can save their own snaps.
  • Look over your shoulder. Even if a message is intended for a friend, users can’t always be sure that the message isn’t seen by someone else-a sibling who is borrowing the phone or another friend looking over the recipient’s shoulder.
  • Taking a picture of a picture. Sure, the original photo may only be available for five seconds, but even that quickly, a photo could be taken of the screen with someone else’s phone camera. From there, it could be posted online and emailed.

The bottom line? Kids should never send, text, tweet or post content that may be interpreted in an inappropriate way-whether it promises to disappear or not.

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