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I have mixed feelings about red-lighting the popular self-destructing messaging app, Snapchat, and I’ll tell you why. I Snapchat with my daughter and the other twenty-somethings and its fun! Like all social media apps, Snapchat can be used for good or evil. They say it’s not guns that kill people, it’s people that kill people. The same applies for social media. So here’s the deal; if the individual using Snapchat has a mature frontal lobe and life experience, this app is way cool. But if the user is young and impulsive, Snapchat provides an effective forum for bad behavior in the form of pictures, videos, and texts. Unfortunately, there are no monitoring apps that I know of that work with Snapchat. However, there are many apps that that let recipients sneakily save chats from unsuspecting senders. Keep in mind, social media apps post risks for viewing, posting, and private messaging. Here is your GetKidsInternetSafe Sensible Parent’s Guide to Snapchat so you can make your most informed parenting decision. To help your tween or teen demonstrate they have the knowledge, problem solving ability, and judgment for social media, check out our Social Media Readiness Course. It’s an online course for tweens and teens that offers information about the risks of digital injury due to social media and psychological wellness tools. With a quiz for each module, they work their way through independently so their graduation certification demonstrates mastery of content. Of course, you can take it too if you’d like. It’s like driver’s training but for the internet!

What is Snapchat?

Snapchat is a free mobile messaging app for sharing moments with family or friends. Photos or videos are taken on the application and the user may draw and add a “caption” to their picture and send it to anyone on their “friends” list. Snapchat also contains a “story” (a saved video on static page for 24 hours) where friends can view your photo and/or video series. The photos or videos last up to ten seconds or it can last up to infinite amount of time and then it disappears after the user clicks their screen. The photos can be saved if the other person viewing it takes a screen shot; however it will notify the sender. Also, the sender may save their photos anytime if they are on their “story.” You can also instant message with Snapchat. Snapchat’s Terms of Use states, “Snapchat is intended for people who are at least 13 years old. Persons under the age of 13 are prohibited from creating Snapchat accounts.”

What are Snapchat’s popular features?

Snapchat is highly intriguing to users because the messaging is photo/video based. This is a step-by-step description of how to use it:

  • Take a photo
  • Tap screen to add caption; tap the “T” in the right hand corner to change font size and color. Tap the pencil under the “T” to draw on the picture with color or draw with emoji’s, tap the square under the pencil to add emoji’s or bitmojis.
  • Under the square is a pair of scissors that allows you to clear a blemish, erase a part of the photo, put an entire background, or put hues of color in designated spots.
  • After the scissors, there is a paper click symbol. This allows for the user to attach a URL to any post they make.
  • Apply a filter by swiping right on the photo; includes four different tints for pictures, a “mph” to show friends how “fast” you’re going if in a moving vehicle, the time photo or video was taken, the altitude, and the temperature of where you are. You can only choose one of these filters at a time or you can hold the screen and apply numerous filters to the post.
  • At the bottom of the list of symbols on the left top corner is the clock where, you can choose how long you want your picture to appear when sent to friends from 1-10 seconds or for infinite. You can also click the arrow pointing down (on the bottom of the screen) if you want to download the picture you just took onto your device. Lastly next to the arrow there is the square with a plus sign to “add to your story,” the picture will remain on your story for 24 hours.
  • At the bottom right corner of the screen, you click the arrow pointing to the right to send the photo to your friends. When clicking here you can choose what friends you want to send it to.
  • Check the box of the friends you want it sent to; on the bottom the friends you chose will show up in a blue link with an arrow pointing to the right. You click the arrow once your friends are chosen.
  • The list of friends include, “Your Story,” “Best Friends,” “Recents,” “Groups,” and “Needs Love.” Your story was previously mentioned before; you just have another option to add the photo to your story a different way. Your best friends consist of those you send Snapchats to the most. Recents are those who recently sent you a Snapchat or those you recently sent a Snapchat to. Groups are people who you have grouped together and if you send a snap to them all of the recipients will receive the same snapchat and can respond to the group (like group messaging but with pictures). Lastly those on the needs love list are those who are on your Snapchat list of friends but you don’t Snapchat them often nor sent them a Snapchat recently.
  • Recently added on Snapchat is group chatting. Now, once you are on your main screen (swipe to the right), you’ll see at the top for the option of “Groups”, “Stories”, or “Chats”. Pressing each of these tabs looks fairly similar but it is a new way of organizing your feed. The New Group Video Chat allows groups of up to sixteen people to instantly start video chatting. To create a video call, you simply create a new group of friends (or use a group already created) and tap the video icon to send an automatic notification to those users, as an invitation to join the call.  During your video chat you can use the famous Snapchat filters. You read that right, you can video call your friends and family while you have a dog filter on your face.

personal profile on Snapchat What is included in the personal profile?

There is not a “personal profile” per se, but there are ways to find your friends who are on Snapchat. From the main snapchat screen, the middle section, you can press the top left corner, which is either a picture of a ghost of your bitmoji you created. From there you can view your name, user name, your astrological sign, and your “score.” There’s a link with a smiley face that says “Added Me” to see those that have recently added you on Snapchat. Then there’s a link that says “Add Friends” and you can search by username, address book, snapcode, or nearby or add from your contacts list. The last link is My Friends, which shows who you have already added.

Those who are not your friends can see the pictures you post on your story, unless you go to settings – view my stor y- and make sure its pressed on “My Friends.” There is an option for Everyone or Custom, which you can block certain people from seeing your story. People can find you using any of the things stated above, but most commonly people will add through “contact” list, snapcode or user name. Your personal snapcode is the unique pattern of dots around your bitmoji. It can be scanned by other users to easily and quickly add you as a friend.

Snapchat settings What are the privacy options?

From the screen with your bimoji, click the settings gear icon on the top right hand corner. When you click it you can see the information you entered when signing up for Snapchat.

privacy options in Snapchat

When you scroll down there is a Manage section with “Who Can…” Contact Me, View My Story, See My Location, and See Me in Quick Add. (Quick add is so you won’t come up on random people’s snapchats saying they might know you and to easily add you as a friend). From there you can select Everyone, My Friends, Only Me, or Custom settings.

How long has it been around and how popular is it?

Snapchat was created by Stanford University students, Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brow. It was first launched in July, 2011, under the name “Picaboo.” Later it was renamed and relaunched September, 2011.

What are the risks for use?

Cyberbully potential:

  • Friends sending threatening/cruel messages or offensive pictures
  • Fake accounts and impersonation.
  • Mostly used with friends or people the individual knows; so if there is an argument they may say or do hurtful things through the app.

Inappropriate content potential:

  • Sexualized images
  • Instant messaging inappropriately
  • Some consider it the “sexting app;” may receive inappropriate pictures or messages; may send them to others as well.
  • Often times, people feel as if they are safe to use this as a “sexting app” due to the fact that the app will notify you if someone has taken a screenshot. They may think that no one will screenshot their inappropriate photo because it notifies the sender. Or if they get notified that someone took a screenshot they may feel that they can take action.

However, it’s important to note that there are apps that a user can download that allow them to screenshot the sender’s photos without it sending a notification. Some of these apps are called, “SnapKeep,” “SnapBox,” “SnapSpy,” and “KeepSnap.” This is important to know, because people get too comfortable with pictures when they believe that after 10 seconds it’s magically gone; this may not be case.

Making poor decisions:

  • Bragging about substance use to friends by taking photos of alcohol use, drug use, or pictures at a party
  • Using device while driving to use the “mph” filter to brag about the speed of the vehicle you are in. This also can lead to driving over speed limit.

What are the protection features?

  • You can change your privacy settings to where only friends can send you Snapchats or see your story (view privacy settings).
  • If a user is sending inappropriate images you can block them by going to your friend’s list, tap the name of the friend, click the settings link, and click “block.” Or if they recently snapped you, you can just hold their name and press settings and then block. You will no longer be able to receive or send Snapchats to that user; they also will no longer be allowed to see your story.

1st screenshot showing protection features in Snapchat

2nd screenshot showing protection features in Snapchat

3rd screenshot showing the SnapChat block feature








Because of the capacity to post images and video unmonitored and instant message, GKIS considers Snapchat a red light app, generally meaning no use prior to age 17. But realistically speaking, most high schoolers actively use and text on Snapchat, so use your best parenting judgment for your child. Also be cautious of similar apps like BurnNote, Slingshot, and Yik Yak. These days, popular social media apps tend to add each other’s most popular features (like Snapchat stories now on Instagram and Facebook). No longer is there a “safer” social media app for middle schoolers.

CSUCI student Adrienne Roy-Gasper

Thank you to CSUCI student Adrienne Roy-Gasper for co-authoring this article. Check out my blog article about how this dad responded to Snapchatters who were cyberbullying his daughter, and how it caused the bully’s dad to lose his job. What are your experiences with Snapchat? Have you run across problems, or do you consider this a reasonable app for your kids? Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

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