If you’ve got a teenager, you can probably look over at any time of the day or night and find them snapping selfie after selfie. I’d estimate that it happens about every 10 seconds. But what are they actually doing?
Chances are, your kid is sending photo-type-texts to their friends via an App called Snapchat, and 10 seconds is the amount of time an image on Snapchat lasts before it disappears. There are funny filters, captions, emojis and overlays based on location that you can also use on your photos for fun, or on your ‘story’. It is mostly used as a way for our kids to keep in touch with others in real-time.
According to their website, 60% of US smartphone users aged 13 – 34 are using Snapchat. Stories are updated in actual time and expire (unless the recipient screen shots them) after 24 hours. Snaps are not curated or perfectly staged like Instagram – they are a reflection of the user moment to moment.
Snapchat is about being real – no hiding, only a real connection of where you are at any given moment. My kids love to tell me about their ‘snap streaks’, meaning a long duration that they have been communicating or ‘snapping’ with a friend. While it seems a bit cumbersome and silly to me, the beauty of it is that they are constantly connected with friends. It creates a sense of community. While we used to use party-line—remember that? You could call a toll-free number and then everyone would be talking at once—this is a version that keeps everyone connected in a very real way.
But there’s also a dark side to snapping incessant selfies that ‘disappear’; kids get a false sense of security that they can snap and send sexy pics without getting caught. There is a feature that alerts the sender if their image has been captured via screenshot before it disappears, however, by then it’s still too late. It also can be used to bully, as you are able to draw over pictures then send pics of photos that you have received and altered. Abusing its many features can occur just as quickly as a 10-second selfie.
I’ve had many conversations with my kids about privacy, and to be aware of whatever they send. The reality is that whatever they send via Snapchat has the potential never to be private. Because of this, I’ve signed up for my own account, and occasionally send snaps to my kids, just to try and understand it and become versed in it. I now understand how it can easily turn sideways if just one person abuses it. Closely monitoring their usage, having an evening cut-off time of 8pm and continuously having conversations about safety, are a few ways that I am trying to keep that from happening.
There are many positive features of Snapchat. A variety of advertisers including CNN, Mashable, and Buzzfeed, post snippets of content. My teens often cite current events, and when I ask them where they read that, the answer is often Snapchat. There are also no ‘likes’ or comments on this platform, which means that anyone can be on the app, and your popularity is not measured by those metrics.
I have to admit now that I am using Snapchat, that I follow a few of my favourite celebrities, which gives me a little bit of a voyeuristic window into their daily life. It’s also fun to see some of the behind the scenes stories from TV or movie productions that are on Snapchat. I encourage all parents to take the time to download the app and surf around. With over 100 million daily active Snapchatters, it won’t be going away anytime soon.