By Beth Greene, MSW, LSW, Youth First, Inc.
Teens often use social media to socialize. Although the internet is an amazing tool for our children, that reality is that it can also negatively affect their mental health and safety.
It is very important that parents stay up to date on the apps their child is using, set clear expectations for internet usage, and be aware of who their children are socializing with on social media.
Over the past five years, Snapchat has emerged as a platform ripe for bullying and online predators. Bullies will create groups or make stories on their profile to display embarrassing photos, make fun of, degrade, spread rumors, and threaten their victims.
Pictures and messages directly sent to a user immediately disappear after the message is viewed, and if someone posts on his or her story, it only stays up for only 24 hours. This can make it very difficult to gather evidence when students report issues to adults.
Although pictures and messages appear to vanish, they never actually go away within the app. It should be noted that if a crime has taken place, such as death threats or potential contact with a sexual predator, law enforcement can gain access to Snapchat accounts with a warrant.
Another concerning Snapchat feature is the “Snap Map,” which displays a user’s location to their snapchat contacts. To disable this feature, an account user must go into settings to “ghost” themselves so their friends cannot see their location. If you do not “ghost” yourself, anyone on your friends list can always see your exact location. When you get into a car and drive, Snapchat will even show your friends your movements in real time.
If a Snapchat account is not private, that account can receive messages and pictures from any stranger. Even if the account is private, Snapchat has a points system set up to give more points to users with the most friends, along with other creative ways to earn points. This encourages children to accept friend requests from strangers to gain points.
Because of these features, children become victims of unsolicited inappropriate images from child predators who have easy access to our children through this app. These predators can create an online relationship with a child to exploit them and gain access to their location.
Recently Snapchat has added its first parental control called “Family Center.” To use this feature, both parent and child must have a Snapchat account and both users must accept the request to use the Family Center feature. This feature allows parents to see who is on their child’s friend list, see whom they have communicated with most often in the past seven days, and it allows parents to report concerning accounts to Snapchat’s Safety Team.
Overall, Snapchat is currently one of the most used social media apps by teens, but it continues to maintain unsafe features. Inform your children that what they post on Snapchat never goes away and that law enforcement can get a warrant for other users’ accounts if your child falls victim to an online crime. Set clear expectations for internet/social media use and talk to your child about internet safety.