If you have kids who are on Snapchat, you’ve probably taken a selfie or two with animated puppy-dog ears. Snapchat invented this fun photo filter and is one of the most popular online platforms for teenagers. And while filters are certainly fun, some of its features can be unsafe. The following tips will help you monitor Snapchat so you can better protect your child’s privacy and safety while they are using the app.
Review Your Child’s Snapchat Friends
Snapchat is built around sharing disappearing photos, or snaps, with friends. In real life, you might want to meet a new friend before your child sleeps over at their house. Online, you should verify that your child’s Snapchat friends are people they really know.
Your Snapchat friends can see your Snap story, or a picture or video that is posted for 24 hours. Friends can also text within the app and contribute to group messages, photos and videos. You can add friends from your contacts, using the search function or via Snapcode, a QR code. With all of these options, your child could easily add someone they don’t know as a Snapchat friend.
If they aren’t careful about who they accept as a friend, your child could share their exact location with someone they don’t know. Snap Map allows users to share locations with friends in real time. This is why checking out their Snapchat friends is an important step. If you don’t recognize someone’s Snapchat name, look it up on Spokeo to search for their identity. Most people use the same handle on multiple social networks, so if Spokeo can’t find the name on Snapchat, it might be able to find their identity from other networks.
If someone is sending messages or harassing your child, you can delete and block them in the Snapchat settings. You can also report any safety concerns within the app.
Monitor Your Child’s Snapchat Settings
In Snapchat, you can control whether only friends or the general public can see your story and send you Snaps by configuring settings under “Who Can….” We also recommend talking with your child about a few specific Snapchat features to ensure their safety and privacy.
Beyond posting images to your own story, you can also submit content to Our Story. This feature curates stories from around the world and shares them publicly. This exposes your child’s story and even their location to the public. Check your child’s location-sharing settings on their phone to make sure you are comfortable with them.
Discover is a stream of content from news outlets, celebrities and other users outside your child’s friend list. Snapchat filters out some mature content based on a user’s age, so make sure your child’s information is entered accurately in settings. And be aware that Discover has external links to marketing surveys or ads, which appear for users of all ages.
You’ve probably heard your child brag about their Snapchat Score, but what is it? Snapchat awards you a point for every Snap you send and receive, adding up to your Snapchat score. You have to open received Snaps for the point, encouraging you to urgently open every Snap before it disappears.
Snapstreaks are exchanges between two friends three days in a row. After the first few days, emoji will appear to remind you to keep the streak going. Kids can develop an emotional connection to continuing Snapstreaks because they view them as a measure of friendship.
Lay Some Snapchat Ground Rules
Think Before You Snap
Though the fun of Snapchat lies in its disappearing images, your child should know that these photos aren’t really temporary. A friend could take a screenshot of their image, which they can store on their phone, share or post somewhere else online. Usually when this happens, your child will get a notification. But there are also ways to take screenshots without sending a notification. You can sit down with your child and talk to them about images that aren’t appropriate for sharing, no matter the venue.
Set Limits for Use
Like most social media platforms, Snapchat is designed for you to spend as much time on the app as possible. Several features — like the Snapstreaks and Snapchat scores discussed above — reward users every time they use the app. While not necessarily dangerous, these features can distract kids from other responsibilities and suck up their time. Who would want to spend time on their homework when you can earn points to Face Swap with a classmate?
So sit down with your child and discuss how much time they are spending on the app (exact usage time can be found in their phone’s settings), and negotiate a time limit that both of you are comfortable with. Then, keep them accountable by installing time limits and rewarding them for sticking to it.
If you ultimately decide you aren’t comfortable with your child using the app, follow these directions for how to delete Snapchat. Got more questions? Read more of our tips for keeping your kids safe online.
Katrina Ballard is a communications manager at a social policy research organization in Washington, D.C. She holds a master’s degree in public administration from American University.