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Snapchat Safety: A Guide for Parents

Snapchat opens up a world of fun and colorful filters for your kid - but is it safe? Join us to discover what else is hidden within this social network, get to know its features, and learn how you can support your kid's digital journey.

Stefanie Parth
2/22/2024 • 8 min
Yellow shirt with phone in chest pocket displaying the Snapchat logo

What is Snapchat?

Launched in 2011, Snapchat has established itself as one of the most dynamic social media platforms with an impressive 414 million daily users. What's behind the hype? Snapchat stands out for its focus on visual communication – friends exchange photos and videos, known as snaps, which disappear once viewed.

Unlike platforms that primarily promote passive consumption of content, Snapchat encourages active sharing among friends. It is particularly appealing to younger users, as it is less used by adults. This makes it an attractive digital playground where kids and teens can socialize.

Getting Started with Snapchat

Available for iOS and Android, Snapchat offers free access and a premium offering called Snapchat+ with even more features. Signing up is easy: a name, an email address or phone number, and a birthdate - that's all it takes. Adding friends? It's a breeze, thanks to the option to upload contacts or search for them.

Snapchat's terms of service state that users must be at least 13 years old to create an account. However, there's no age verification, allowing younger kids to sign up as well.

Snapchat Lingo: What Do These Terms Mean?

In the world of Snapchat, you'll often come across specific expressions related to the app's features. Here, we explain what the most common Snapchat terms really mean.

Snapping: Snaps are the core of Snapchat – photos or videos that users can enhance with creative filters and effects before sharing them with friends.

Chatting: Snapchat lets users also make direct calls, send short video messages, texts, photos, and stickers. Even group chats with up to 16 people are possible. Users can chat not only on their phones, but also via the web browser through Snapchat Web.

Snapcode: Think of it as Snapchat's digital name tag. Each user gets their own QR code, making adding friends a breeze. However, this can sometimes lead to unexpected friend requests.

Snapchat Stories: A true innovation from Snapchat – sharing images and videos as Stories that are visible for 24 hours (a feature later adopted by Instagram). Users can share snippets of their lives with others, whether broadly or just with selected friends.

Snap Map: Offers a live map where users can see where their friends are hanging out. Caution is advised – not everyone who appears on the map is a friend in real life. Tip: Turn off the feature or activate "Ghost Mode" to keep your kid's location hidden.

Snapstreaks: Indicate how many consecutive days your kid and a friend have exchanged snaps. It's fun, but can also be stressful, as some teens place significant importance on the length of their streaks. It's important to find a healthy balance.

Snap Games: Multiplayer games that can be started directly in the chat. Participants in the conversation receive an invitation to play and can join immediately. It's also possible to compete against randomly selected players. Chatting during the game is possible, even via live voice chat, so again, be careful. Also important to know: There's no specific age rating for the games. Be sure to review the games with your kid and decide together.

Discover: This tab is a colorful basket full of content, from news to entertainment to personal stories. A peek through this window provides access to a diverse world, but beware: Not everything is appropriate for every age group, and ads are mixed in with the stories.

Other terms
Geofilters: Location-based filters that Snapchat provides for specific places or events.
Memories: Allow users to save their Snaps and view them again later.
Cameos: Personalized animated GIFs that include your own selfie and can be sent in chats.
MyAI: A chatbot that lets you interact with artificial intelligence directly in Snapchat.
Lenses and Filters: From simple color changes to sophisticated augmented reality effects – there's something for everyone.
Snap Store, Scan, Sounds, and Spotlight: A mix of features ranging from shopping and music to a platform for public Snaps.

5 Risks Parents Should Know

1. The illusion of impermanence
Snapchat often feels like a digital bubble – here now and gone the next moment. This can easily lead to sharing personal or sensitive info without much thought. But beware: Recipients can take screenshots of these fleeting moments, and once shared, control is lost. Snapchat does notify the sender about such screenshots, but by then, it's already too late.

2. Unwanted contacts
Snapchat is a great place to connect and have fun. But just like in real life, it's important to know the people you're hanging out with. Kids and teens can easily meet strangers, putting them at risk for inappropriate interactions or even online grooming. A quick check of the friends list will help ensure that only familiar faces are allowed.

3. Screen time and pressure
The colorful world of filters, games and Snapstreaks can quickly become a time trap. The Snapstreaks feature, which shows how long you've been sharing snaps continuously with your friends, can create immense pressure to keep up. The expectation to maintain a streak can be very stressful, especially if teens think a friendship is at stake. It's important to talk to your kid and make it clear that the number of flame emoji next to a name doesn't define a friendship.

4. Privacy concerns
The issue of Snapchat and privacy can be tricky, especially with features that share location. The risk of kids and teenagers carelessly sharing sensitive data is not to be underestimated. Having an open discussion about what is shared and with whom can go a long way toward prevention and safety.

5. Ads
The Discover section is Snapchat's digital showcase, filled with news, stories, and yes, ads. This content is often formatted in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish from editorial. Carefully sifting through this content protects against falling for shiny advertising promises. There is also the risk of personal information being collected for targeted advertising through quizzes and similar features.

Kids looking at their smartphones and tablets next to each other

(Source: pressfoto/Freepik)

Tips for Safe Use

Use privacy settings
Take some time to explore Snapchat's privacy settings on your kid's device together. The goal is to ensure that only real friends can send snaps or view stories – keeping uninvited guests out. For kids under 18, these settings are even preset by default. Don't forget: You can also turn off geofilters and location sharing to take privacy a step further.

Set usage rules
Discuss how Snapchat should be used: Ideally, only interact with people you know in real life. Explain why it's important to always remain respectful and why it makes sense to double-check before sharing content. After all, just because photos and videos disappear from Snapchat doesn't mean they're really gone.

Blocking and reporting users
Show your kid how to block users and report concerning content. Snapchat has a few tricks up its sleeve to prevent spam or inappropriate contact. If something serious happens, it's up to you as a parent to take the right steps.

Set up parental controls
Snapchat's Family Center offers a practical way to view your kid’s friend list without being able to read the chats. This maintains privacy while giving you a sense of who your kid is interacting with.

  1. Install Snapchat on your parent device and sign up.
  2. Add your kid as a friend by simply looking up their username.
  3. Tap the gear icon on your profile view to open Settings.
  4. Scroll to the "Privacy Controls" section.
  5. Tap "Family Center."
  6. Send an invitation to your kid, which they must confirm.
  7. Now you can use the Family Center.

But be aware: Family Center is not PIN protected. This means your kid could theoretically change the settings.

Keep the conversation going
The key is open communication. Show interest in your kid's Snapchat world and discuss everything that is happening digitally. Not only will this build trust, but it will also help you identify potential risks together.

Limit screen time
Use Ohana: Our app can help ensure your kid doesn't spend too much time in the digital world and instead experiences more of real life. This promotes a healthy balance and encourages offline time, which is just as exciting.

Is Your Kid Ready for Snapchat?

Snapchat is recommended for users ages 13 and up, a guideline that takes into account both legal requirements and children's cognitive development, allowing them to navigate the world of social networks safely. But of course, not every kid is the same.

Age is not the only factor - how your kid handles digital challenges is the real test. Observe how they behave online and in real life. These insights are invaluable in assessing whether your child is ready for Snapchat.

Our advice on age limits: In general, it's wise to stay close to the recommended age of 13. If possible, delay the start as long as possible. And when you do give the green light to Snapchat, make sure your kid isn't wasting hours on it, and that they're really only chatting with people they know outside of the digital world. Ultimately, as with any social network, it's up to us as parents to keep a watchful eye and guide our kids on this digital journey.

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