Safer Internet Day: A Parents’ Guide To Snapchat
Posted on 06/02/18
February 6th is Safer Internet Day, which means it's the perfect opportunity for us to speak to the parents among us about the risks young people can encounter online.
Most parents will be aware of the likes of WhatsApp and Instagram, while we're willing to bet there's not a person reading this now who doesn't have a Facebook account. Snapchat, on the other hand, is more of an unknown quantity for parents and can seem like quite a 'closed-off' medium.
Unfortunately, that's one of the reasons why so many teenagers like it! But we recognise that safety is of huge importance to parents whether it's on the road or online, so here's a quick survival guide to get you up to speed on what Snapchat's all about!
What Is Snapchat?
Snapchat is a popular app that's used to share photos, videos, messages and drawings. It's free to download, free to use and has become incredibly popular among young people in the past few years.
Fun and spontaneity is what it's all about, but the unique feature that distinguishes Snapchat from other apps and social networks is that all photos, videos and messages disappear forever after they've been opened and can't be accessed again by either the sender or the recipient.
How And Why Do People Use Snapchat?
For most people, Snapchat is kinda like texting-plus. Snapchat's spontaneous nature means it can work a lot like sending a text or a message but it's often more immediate as users can send a quick captioned picture to describe what they're doing or feeling instead of having to type out a full message.
Snapchat can also better capture the moment; things that are happening around you or that you're doing can be shared more effectively, more immediately and in a more immersive fashion via Snapchat than on other social media platforms.
Perhaps the biggest selling point is that there's no digital paper trail. Younger people are acutely aware of the fact that on Facebook and Twitter your posts and conversations are essentially open for public viewing.
On Snapchat, you don't have to enter any personal details about yourself, your posts aren't archived and you can choose exactly who sees your snaps and who doesn't. The fact that most parents don't really understand it is also a key attraction, as increasing numbers of users are choosing to side-step sites like Facebook - and the watchful eye of their parents and families - altogether.
What Are The Risks?
Of course, that can be worrying to parents who naturally want to be able to monitor what their kids are doing for the sake of their own safety. The majority of Snapchats sent are harmless fun, but as with all social media there are still risks:
WHO CAN SEND SNAPS
Snapchat is designed to share moments with your friends, but like all social networks and messaging apps there's always the risk that users may connect with people they don't actually know and be able to receive messages, videos and pictures from them.
The app's settings allow users to choose to receive snaps from either 'Everyone' or 'My Friends', with the latter being the default option and the one you'll want to encourage your kids to use if they don't already.
This ensures only people that they've added on Snapchat can send them snaps, and as with any social media they should be encouraged to only ever add people that they actually know and trust.
The burn-after-reading nature of Snapchat posts is one of its biggest attractions, but that doesn't stop the recipient of a message or picture from taking a screenshot of it on their device and saving it.
Handily, Snapchat does notify users any time that someone takes a screenshot of their pictures, which means that they can block or report the person who screenshotted their snaps if they think there was any kind of suspicious or malicious activity.
Of course, that won't prevent the person who took the screenshot from keeping it or spreading it on other social media platforms and you should remind your kids to be careful about what they share online.
Experts suggest sticking to the 'Granny Rule'; if you wouldn't show it to your granny, don't send it on Snapchat!
Most Snapchats are sent from one friend to another or to a group chat of multiple friends, but users can also opt to post pictures and videos to their Snapchat Story, a gallery of snaps which stays up for 24 hours and which can be replayed again and again.
It's worth checking the settings on the Stories feature, as users can choose to share their stories either with 'Everyone', 'My Friends' or 'Custom'. The first option means that the user's Snapchat Story is publicly available for anyone to watch.
The second means that only their friends can watch it, while they can also create a custom setting where it's only watchable by people the user specifically selects. As with friend-to-friend snaps, the Granny Rule should be in full effect when posting snaps to Stories!
SNAP MAPS LOCATION SHARING
Snap Maps is a feature where users can share their locations with each other so they can see where their friends are and what's going on around them. The idea is to make it easier for friends to meet up and hang out, but the feature shows the user's location on a real-life map.
Many people have pointed out that this feature could be used to find a user's whereabouts and track them down. Quite rightfully so, as the Snap Maps feature is so precise it'll even show the exact house or building the user is in.
Luckily, Snap Maps has three privacy settings: 'Ghost Mode', 'My Friends' and 'Select Friends'. Ghost Mode allows users to see other people's locations (providing they're not also using Ghost Mode!) but no-one can see theirs.
'My Friends' means that all the people the user has added can see their location, while 'Select Friends' allows users to grant permission to see their location only to a select number of their friends. For more info on Snap Maps, you can visit Snapchat's official information page.
Using Snapchat While Driving
There are other risks that Snapchat can pose too, and research estimates that as many as one in three young drivers will admit to having taken a selfie while at the wheel.
Statistics from road safety charity Think! show that if you use your phone while driving you're four times more likely to have a crash and that if you text and drive your reactions are twice as slow than if you drive and drive!
A quick Google of 'Snapchat driving' will reveal dozens of headlines about young people involved in road traffic accidents while attempting to send Snapchats to each other, and so it's important that young drivers are made aware of the very real consequences of phone use behind the wheel.
What Can You Do As A Parent?
The best way to protect your kids regardless of their age is to discuss the risks with them and try to come to a mutual agreement on what you both think is an acceptable way to use Snapchat while making sure that the distinction between acceptable and inappropriate use is clear.
At the end of the day, you don't want to ruin the fun they have with their friends, but it's important to remind them about the dangers that apps like Snapchat can pose. Ultimatelu, you want them to know that as a parent you're there and able to help if things go wrong.
The same ground rules should apply to all of their online interactions as well and should boil down to a few key points: only share snaps with people you know and trust in real life, think before you click on anything and report any harmful images, videos or messages to a trusted adult.