If you have teenagers in your family, you’ve probably heard about “sexting” and other types of risky behavior that some kids are doing on Snapchat, the mobile messaging app used to share photos, videos, text, and drawings. If you’ve used Snapchat yourself, you already know that Snapchat messages self-destruct after a few seconds, which leads kids, especially, to express themselves pretty freely because they think they’ll leave no trace. In actuality, there are risks to all social media apps, so you need to educate your teens, even though you may get an eye-roll or two in the process.
First, teens need to know that Snapchat messages don’t necessarily vanish without a trace. People can capture messages with screen shots, or they can use a camera or other device to take a picture of the message. Snapchat is supposed to tell the sender if someone does a screen capture of their message, but there’s no guarantee that it will work, and in the end there’s no way to track if someone takes a photo. If a screenshot is captured, that person can post it anywhere. So tell your children if it’s not something they’d want showing on their Facebook timeline forever, don’t send it on Snapchat either.
The other big risk of social media is that it can be used by bullies, sexual predators, and other bad guys. Most social media platforms require users to be over 13 years old, but they take the word of the person setting up the account about their birthday. It’s a good idea to closely monitor your pre-teen’s use of social media. Teens should set up a “Friends” list in their app so that they only receive messages from people they know. And if they do get a bullying or offensive text, they should try to get a screen shot of it so you can help them report it to the appropriate authorities, whether that be school or law enforcement.
Instant messaging communities such as Snapchat, Viber, and WhatsApp are a great way to connect with friends, and the ability to design “stories” with images and video can enhance creativity and even help kids build skills for their digital future. But, as with other first steps that teens make into the adult world, parental guidance helps make it a safe passage.