I have a confession: I don’t like wearing costumes. They are usually uncomfortable and scratchy and I don’t feel like myself. This past Halloween my family was invited to a party where costumes were REQUIRED. They meant business too. No costume, no entry. My 13-year-old daughter suggested the perfect costume for me. She had seen it on Pinterest and thought it would meet all of my requirements.
She helped me create my very own Snapchat costume. All I had to wear was a yellow shirt (not my favorite color, but I’d survive) and I’d have a costume tailor made for someone who doesn’t like dressing up and teaches internet safety. It even had a Snap Code on the back where people could scan it with their phone to send me a message. It was very cool.
I had no idea my costume would be another lesson in the importance of parents staying up-to-date with their kids’ digital lives.
When we arrived at the party, it was already crowded. Right away several parents said, “Oh, I like your little ghost costume.” Hmm…I thought. Do they really not recognize the Snapchat logo? Almost immediately, several teens ran up and said, “Love your Snapchat costume!” This was interesting. I started polling the grow-ups at the party to see if they knew what I was. Not one single parent had any idea what my costume was; however, every single tween and teen did. This was the perfect reminder of why parents need to stay involved in their kids digital lives. As a parent, it’s important to understand Snapchat. Kids use it. Daily. It can be fun, but there are also a lot of problems that come with this app and kids need to know how to use it safely.
Snapchat is an app that allows users to send pictures and videos that flash onto the receiver’s screen for just a few seconds (the sender decides how long: between 1-10 seconds) and then supposedly “disappear.”
People like it because they can share a moment in their day. A silly expression, what they are snacking on, who they are hanging with, etc. It is a fast-paced social media app that was designed with the intention to provide more privacy then apps like Instagram, where posts can be seen by many. However, Snapchat is just as public as any other digital communication. Kids know that they can take a screen shot of any picture that comes on their device and then will have a permanent copy, which they can share with anyone. Snapchat notifies the sender if someone has taken a screenshot of their message; however by this point it’s too late to get it back.
Snapchat is also often used by teens for Sexting: sending and receiving naked or semi-naked pictures of themselves. They think it’s a “safe” way to do this since the images vanish; however, this simply isn’t the case.
If you don’t now much about Snapchat, you are not alone! The good news is there are some simple steps you can take to help protect your child.
- Talk with your child about Snapchat. Do they have an account? (Legally, kids are supposed to be 13 or older however, many younger kids have accounts too.) Sit down with them and have them teach you how it works. Kids love to be the expert and teach their parent.
- Remind your child how everything they do in the digital world can become public. Even though it FEELS private, once they hit send their picture or video could end up anywhere. I like to have my kids picture how they would feel if their message was on the billboard in front of their school. If they wouldn’t want it there, they should send it.
- Ask them if they’ve seen anything inappropriate or embarrassing while using Snapchat. Let them know that they can come to you if they ever see something upsetting. Kids need our help processing inappropriate messages and the majority of them have seen them.
For most of us, it is impossible to understand every app or to try to keep up with our kids. We will always be a step or more behind them. However, we can check-in with them and communicate the importance of creating a digital footprint they can be proud of. Keeping the lines of communication open about their digital lives and staying involved with how they are using technology is an important step to keeping them safe. I know it can feel overwhelming, but your child can show you the ropes, while you communicate that you are willing to learn and want to be involved with their digital world.