Is Snapchat Safe for Kids?
MAY 24, 2023
Is Snapchat Safe for Kids?
Snapchat is all the rage among kids. It’s such a common app with teens, that odds are your child has an account or has asked to create one. The app is free to download, but also has a premium subscription plan called Snapchat+. Snapchat is not safe for kids, but parents can protect their children from its harmful effects.
Since its launch in 2011, Snapchat has become a popular social media platform among young people. 48% of Snapchatters are between the ages of 15-25.
Is Snapchat Social Media?
Yes, absolutely. After Snapchat’s CEO, Evan Spiegel, was forced to testify before congress in January 2024 regarding harms caused to teens on the platform, Snapchat tried to rebrand itself with a new campaign trying to distance themselves from the term “social media.”
During his testimony, Spiegel recalled building Snapchat as an alternative to social media, by making conversations private, temporary, and not subject to popularity metrics.
However, trying to rebrand doesn’t take away from the fact that Snapchat fits the definition of social media perfectly — an online place where users create community and shared content.
What is Snapchat?
Snapchat is a social media platform that allows users to share photos and videos—called Snaps—that disappear once viewed. The app has many features beloved by users.
We will highlight some of those features below, but keep scrolling to learn more about the risks and dangers of Snapchat.
The main feature of Snapchat is its camera, which allows users to enhance videos and photos with filters, stickers, and other special effects.
Filters and lenses
Filters are image overlays that users can add after taking a snap. They can change brightness or color, and add text or graphics to images. Some examples include adding the location the picture was taken, or the current time.
Lenses are augmented reality effects that use facial recognition technology to interact and respond to the user’s actions. Some examples include giving the user dog ears, or face swapping two people.
Users are able to send pictures, videos, or text messages to friends within the app. These chats can be one-on-one, or group chats with up to 100 friends. Voice and video calls are also available within this feature.
Stories are videos or pictures that a user chooses to share with all their Snapchat friends. Users are able to see and comment on friends’ stories as well. All stories disappear after 24 hours, but can be screen recorded by viewers and shared online without the creator’s consent.
This section is algorithm driven, and shows users content that Snapchat thinks they’ll enjoy. The content is created by snapchatters around the world who choose to share publicly, or companies, influencers, etc., who want exposure.
Snapchatters have the option of saving their Snaps and stories to their personal account. They can choose to share the content with friends, or just keep it for themselves to revisit it indefinitely.
The Snap Map feature allows users to see where all of their Snapchat contacts are in real-time. Users can choose to share their location with specific friends or with everyone on their friend list.
There is the option of ghost mode, where the user becomes invisible on the map but is still able to see friends’ locations.
Snap Map uses heat maps to show high concentrations of Snapchatters, and also displays popular locations and restaurants.
Snapchat’s newest feature is a chatbot powered by ChatGPT, called My AI.
Released in February, 2023, My AI allows users to converse with their own personal AI, who can answer questions and offer advice.
Risks of Snapchat
Snapchat’s disappearing messages can vanish right after being read, or 24-hours later if the sender chooses that setting. This makes it difficult for parents to monitor what their kids are sharing or seeing. This, along with social media consumption can open the door to many dangers.
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices. It includes sending, posting, or sharing harmful or mean content about someone else. In a survey administered by the CDC, 15.7% of high schoolers said they experienced cyberbullying in the past 12 months.
Exposure to inappropriate content
Unfortunately, we can’t always protect our children from the actions of others. Inappropriate content is found on Snapchat’s discover section—a newsfeed with publicly shared content— as well as shared in-between friends.
Many kids assume that because messages disappear once viewed, they can act more scandalous than in real life with no repercussions.
While it’s true that Snaps disappear, anyone receiving a Snap can take a screenshot and save the image. The image can then be spread around, or even used for sextortion.
Location sharing: Snap Map
Snap Map allows kids to find their friends easily and to know exactly where to meet. But sharing their location with their entire friend list can be dangerous.
Some kids allow any and everyone to friend them on social media apps, simply to appear popular as their number of friends go up. Some of these friends can be acquaintances, or even strangers.
Seeing friends together on maps can make those stuck at home feel left out. Imagine seeing a group of friends together, and knowing you weren’t invited.
It happens, but when it’s visual it can cause profoundly hurt feelings and strained relationships.
Many Snapchat filters are fun and silly. But there are some worrisome ones out there, including ones that change facial and body characteristics.
This can cause a disconnect with our real appearance and lead to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)—a mental health condition characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with perceived flaws or defects in one’s appearance.
People with BDD often engage in compulsive behaviors, such as constantly checking their appearance in mirrors or avoiding social situations.
Filter dysmorphia can also contribute to a harmful beauty standard, where people feel pressured to look a certain way in order to be considered attractive on social media.
Access to Drugs
Drug dealers have taken to social media, with Snapchat being prevalent, to advertise their goods and to take orders. Kids are able to find dealers, put in an order, and have drugs delivered straight to the front door.
Originally released only for Snapchat+ users, My AI is now available to all users. Snapchat support warns users that My AI responses can be biased, incorrect, and harmful.
Users are encouraged to do further research before trusting My AI’s advice, but kids (who make up the vast majority of Snapchatters) seldom think to fact check, or read through the support page for this warning.
My AI also collects data and the user’s location to personalize its service. The chatbot talks to users as a friend, which can blur the line between robot and human in the minds of young children who may divulge personal information to a machine.
Tips for Parents to Keep Kids Safe on Snapchat
If a child is using Snapchat, parents have a few options that can improve the experience. First, we always recommend open communication about proper and safe online behavior. We can also sit down together with our kids to go through the app’s settings and discuss the dangers of some of the features.
When kids are given a breakdown of the possible dangers, they will be aware of things to watch out for.
Parents can encourage their children to make their Snapchat account private, which means that only people they have added as friends can see their content and send them Snaps. None of the child’s Snaps will be shared on the public discovery page.
Encourage kids to block and report any inappropriate behavior or content to Snapchat’s support team.
Released in 2020, the Snapchat Family Center is an in-app feature that allows caregivers to manage their children’s use of the app.
Parents can view insights and analytics about their child’s activity on the app, such as the type of content they are viewing, who they are communicating with, and the amount of time they are spending on the app. To learn more about this feature, check out our Snapchat Parental Controls article.
Is Snapchat safe for kids? In our opinion, no. However, you know your child best and will know whether or not they are ready to handle the benefits and potential harm that comes with this app.
Let us know what you learned from this article in the comments.