I’ve blogged several times on the inherent dangers social media networks — like Musical.ly and Sarahah — pose for the young children who use them. The truth is, every social media network has a dark underbelly, and too many of them seem far too reluctant to take preventable measures to protect kids. Facebook enables bullying and doesn’t intervene even when it is reported, Musical.ly allows potential pedophiles to easily build fake accounts that closely resemble accounts of popular teen stars, et cetera and so on.
That brings us to Snapchat. This social media giant has 158 million users, and each user opens the app an average of 18 times each day. It’s a far cry from the other social media app that is particularly popular among teens and tweens, Instagram, which has more than 700 million users. But it’s still growing at a rapid rate.
By its very nature, Snapchat is probably the most dangerous social media app for young users. In addition to being a messaging network, its signature feature is the ability for users to send photos or short video clips that automatically delete themselves after a few seconds. This lulls some young users into a false sense of security, causing them to send photos they would never share otherwise. But there’s a catch: just because the pictures delete themselves doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. Other users who are viewing the shared photos can take a screen shot of them before they disappear. Snapchat alerts the sender that a screen shot has been taken, but by that point, the damage has been done.
Early on, it was not uncommon for high school-aged and even middle school-aged children to send nude or otherwise inappropriate photos of themselves to their friends, mistakenly believing that the photos would disappear after a short period of time. Too many times, those photos were screen-shotted and either distributed via text messaging or posted online for all the world to see.
While Snapchat users of all ages these days are aware of the dangers of having their photos screen-shotted, some of them still tend to send photos they wouldn’t otherwise send, because they disappear and their parents can’t catch them. Parents who don’t think this kind of behavior still takes place on Snapchat are kidding themselves. It happens, and as young as early middle school for a lot of kids.
That’s only the start of Snapchat’s dangers. A couple of months ago, I blogged about the dangers of a new social media network, Sarahah. (Read it here.) This app allows users to comment anonymously. It quickly gained popularity this past summer, with teens and tweens linking their Sarahah accounts to their Instagram and Snapchat accounts and sharing the messages they received. As I said at the time: “If some parents saw the things that are being anonymously said to their kids on Sarahah (and I’m talking middle school-aged kids), and that those kids are then posting publicly for all the world to see, I bet they would be shocked.”
But this post isn’t about the questionable photos kids are sending or receiving, or even Sarahah. It’s about something else entirely.
I blogged earlier this year that my wife and I strictly monitor our kids’ phone usage, including their social networking apps. I am logged in to each of their social networking apps on my phone, and I monitor their activity on a regular basis. At the time, I didn’t allow my kids to use Snapchat — because of the very dangers I mentioned above. In time, though, I relented, with some very specific rules. Foremost among those rules was that they could only add friends I approved of. And there’s an understanding that I will log in to their Snapchat accounts often. Sometimes I even open some of their unread messages to see what kind of material they’re receiving. They don’t like it, but, hey, my rules.
Snapchat has a feature called Stories, which allows users to post photos or videos for all of their friends to see. It’s a popular feature that has been adopted by many companies. (We’ve even experimented with it at the Independent Herald as a way to expand our social media presence.) When Snapchat users go to their Stories interface (think of it like a Facebook wall, where you see everything that is being posted publicly), they can see Stories that have been posted by friends. But they also see stories that Snapchat recommends for them.
Here’s the thing about Snapchat: it envisions itself, and actually bills itself, as a network for young adults. In fact, the single biggest Snapchat demographic is young adults. So Snapchat’s recommended stories are often things that are intended to be seen as hip and cool by young adults.
Let’s just say that things young adults consider hip and cool aren’t things most of us would want our kids seeing. You can use your own imagination.
When I glanced at the Stories page on my kids’ Snapchat accounts, I was continuously seeing Stories that had been recommended that looked like they were straight out of Cosmopolitan magazine. Sex, sex, alcohol, sex . . . you get the point. “How to be a good kisser,” or “How to turn on that special guy,” etc.
I didn’t click on these Stories and I knew my kids weren’t, either. But the more I saw them pop up, the more I found myself steaming about them. Let’s face it: Young adults may be Snapchat’s biggest demographic, but Snapchat knows very well that a significant portion of its users are teens and tweens. Actually, there are kids as young as second or third grade who use Snapchat. And, yet, the company is doing nothing to screen these Stories from these young, curious eyes.
So I started clicking on a few of them just to see if they were as bad as I envisioned.
They were worse.
Check out a few of these screenshots. Want your middle school student to get a quick sex ed lesson? They don’t have to wait for it at school or at home. They can get it on Snapchat.
Hey, that’s good. Everyone wants their teenager to know how to last longer in bed, right?
It gets worse . . .
How cool is that? About the time your teenager is starting to date, their Snapchat Stories screen is plastered with advice on how to find a date that’s “cool with sex on the first date.” Isn’t that helpful?
It isn’t just sex. It’s drugs, too. Check this out . . . and from no less a reputable media company than The Washington Post.
After the drug Story, there’s another sex Story popping up. Apparently there is no shortage of those. . .
Seen enough? Well, wait until you see the next one. I’m pretty sure I don’t know many parents who are cool with a social media app teaching our teens that being promiscuous is not just okay, but a good thing . . .
But as the infomercial guy says on TV, “Wait! There’s more!!” I’ll just leave this last one without comment . . .
So, back to the original question: Do you know what your kids are being exposed to on Snapchat?
I try not to make knee-jerk decisions. So I’ll sleep on it a few days. But then I’m pretty sure I know where my kids’ Snapchat apps are going. Back when I was their age and we were all using the Windows OS, we called it the Recycle Bin.