If you have a teenager, you've probably heard about Snapchat. It's one of the most popular social media apps out there right now and gives young people a fun and easy way to share customised photos and videos with their friends, along with games and quizzes. There are plenty of great things about Snapchat. But, just like with any social media app, if your kids are keen to use it, it's a good idea for you to get to grips with how it works, the age limits and whether Snapchat is safe for your kids. Here's our Snapchat parents' guide to tell you everything you need to know.
What is Snapchat?
Snapchat is a free messaging app that enables users to swap videos and pictures (snaps) that disappear after viewing. The main idea is to take a video or photo, add lenses, filters, or other effects, and share with friends. Users can change the background of their picture or even add items to the picture, such as putting stars in their eyes or adding glasses, hats and cute cartoon effects. Once the recipient sees the picture or video, Snapchat automatically deletes it.
How does Snapchat work?
To set up Snapchat, users need to provide their name, email address and date of birth. They also need to choose a handle that will be their screen name. It's usually photos that start the conversation. You need to tap on the big camera circle and take a snap. You can then customise your snap with the various photo editing tools available and send it to anyone on your list of friends. There are many features on Snapchat, including:
- Snaps: Photos and images you can customise with lenses (special effects like face swap) or filters (stickers, doodles or emojis)
- Snaps delete automatically: After the recipient views a snap, it disappears. However, someone can take a screenshot of the snap before it goes
- Snapcode: You can add friends by uploading your contact list or searching for people. It's also possible to automatically add someone by taking a photo of their ‘Snapcode’, which is each user's unique QR code
- Chat and calls: You can use Snapchat to chat by text, photo, video or audio with friends you've approved
- Discover: This section lets users flick through trending articles and news stories snippets. Sometimes this includes mature content, but you can’t turn it off
- Snap Map: Snap Map enables users to share their location with all of their friends, a few friends or everyone
- Ghost Mode: This lets you keep your location private and not share it with anyone
- Our Story: This is the public area of Snapchat where people can share with the wider community. Content posted to Our Story can be seen publicly on the Snap Map and potentially outside the app
- My Story: Any Snaps you add to My Story can be seen by your friends for 24 hours
- Memories: This is your collection of Stories and saved Snaps. You can save particular Memories in the app's password-protected "My Eyes Only" area
Is Snapchat safe?
Snapchat is a lot of fun to use and is a popular way for young people to stay in touch with their friends. But, like with any social media or messaging platform, its safety largely depends on what information your child shares, their privacy settings and who they add to their friends' list. It's also worth keeping in mind that while messages may disappear, they can still be saved and shared beforehand. It can be a good idea to chat with your kids about how to use the app safely and responsibly before they download it.
Are there age limits for Snapchat?
Alongside how safe it is, another big question for parents is what is the age limit for Snapchat? Snapchat's terms of service say that the Snapchat age limit is 13 and over. Anyone wishing to set up an account must provide their date of birth. However, it's important to keep in mind that there's no age verification process, so children under 13 can easily sign up without being checked.
What privacy settings does Snapchat have?
You can never be too careful when it comes to the internet, especially when your children share information, videos and photos online. Snapchat has several privacy settings you can adjust for added peace of mind, such as:
Two-factor authentication helps prevent unauthorised access to your child's account by adding an extra layer of security. Whenever your teen signs in to their Snapchat account, they must enter their password, and a verification code is sent automatically to their phone.
Anyone in the world can contact your children through Snapchat unless their settings are changed only to allow their friends to contact them (people on their friend list). This covers all contract methods through Snapchat, including calls, text chats, video and snaps and photo snaps.
Who can see their Snapchat stories
Depending on their settings, your kids can post ‘stories’ to their My Story section, which appears in their friends' feeds.
Opt-out of Quick Add
At the bottom of the chat list and stories tab is Snapchat's Quick Add feature. It lists suggested users to add based on mutual friends. With Quick Add disabled, your kids won't show up in the Quick Add section of their friends' friends.
What are parents' main concerns with Snapchat?
While teenagers can have a lot of fun on Snapchat, certain features may cause concern for some parents. For instance:
- Snap Map: Users share their location, which could reveal to strangers where your child lives or go to school
- Disappearing messages: Messages automatically deleting after a certain amount of time may cause some children to feel it's safe to send private material
- Age verification: There is no age verification process when people set up accounts. Children under the age of 13 can very easily claim they're older and sign up
- Monitoring kids' Snapchat activity: As there's no feed on Snapchat to scroll through, parents cannot see their teen's Snapchat activity as they can on other platforms
- Connecting with strangers: It's very easy to add people on Snapchat, and your children could end up with a big list of people who're largely strangers
- Mature content: Snapchat uses an algorithm to ensure younger users see age-appropriate content. Theoretically, this means your young teens shouldn't see sexual and explicit content posted on Snapchat as long as their account has their correct age.
Tips to keep your child safe on Snapchat
Before you let your kids get too snap-happy, there are a few things to keep in mind to help ensure your children always have a positive Snapchat experience.
It can be a good idea to get to grips with Snapchat's privacy settings before your kids get snapping. The default ‘My Friends’ setting should just allow your kids to send and receive messages from people on their friends' list, but it's a good idea to make sure you're happy with what this entails.
Talk with your children about being careful when sharing any personally identifiable information online. This includes where your child lives, where they go to school and their routine. It's a good idea for kids to stay in Ghost Mode with everyone other than a few trusted friends and close family.
Keep it real
Snapchat is designed to connect real-life friends, but it's still possible for your kids to come across people they don't know. That's why it's a good idea to remind your children that it's better to friend people they know in real life and never to meet up with a person they've met online.
Nudity and indecent images
Talk to your teens about the type of content that is and isn't appropriate to share on any social media platform. Be open with them about sexually inappropriate content to ensure they know never to engage with anything like this online. Ask your children to tell you if they ever receive indecent images or requests to send indecent images (even if they have been told not to tell anyone).
Block and report
Snapchat has a block feature that you or your child can use if they receive any inappropriate messages or abuse on the platform. Once someone is blocked, they cannot search for your child or contact them. You should always report any inappropriate content straight away. You can do this by reporting a specific piece of content or reporting a user's account.
Does Snapchat have parental controls?
Snapchat has parental controls that let you and your child control who can see what they share and who can contact them.
Make sure only your children's friends can contact them by tapping the Settings gear icon on your child's profile page, selecting Contact Me, and checking that ‘My Friends’ is selected. You can also go to the Who Can section, tap on View My Story, and select My Friends to ensure only your teen's friends can see their Snaps.
To stop your teen from being suggested as a friend to other users on Snapchat, tap on the gear icon on their profile, then deselect the See Me in Quick Add option.
Stop anyone from being able to see your kid's current location on the app by selecting the gear icon on the profile page, then See My Location and check that Ghost Mode is selected.
Can I monitor my kids' activity on Snapchat?
Snapchat doesn't have a feed that you can monitor, as with Facebook and Instagram. However, you can look at your child's friend list and keep an eye on the snaps they've created and saved to get an idea of what they're sharing and who they're snap-chatting with. However, to your child, this may feel like you're spying on them. If you allow them to use a platform like Snapchat, there should be a degree of trust between you and your teen. After all, it's impossible to monitor everything your kids do on social media. Instead, be sure to have regular open and honest conversations with your children about the risks of social media, what they can do to keep themselves safe and how to report anything that makes them feel worried or uncomfortable.
For more advice on helping to keep your children safe online, visit net-aware.org.uk