There is no data available about how many underage users are on Snapchat. That in itself is a problem, but it’s part of the landscape. If you want to lie about your age when you sign up for a social site, you can. In our experience, any kid with a phone can figure it out.
Snapchat’s stated age limit is 13, but since it is the social app with by far the youngest user group – fully 45% of users are under 25 vs. 20% for the other major social networks and apps – we can assume that many kids under 13 are using it. Is it safe for kids? Let’s take a look.
How Snapchat works is pretty simple: users take a photo or short video (a “snap”), annotate it with text or doodles, set the timer for how long the content will be viewable before it “disappears”, then send it to a friend or group. It is very in-the-moment engaging, but there are issues:
Pictures don’t really disappear – Snapchat has backed off the claim that pictures disappear, but users have been carrying on as if they do. What are the risks?
- According to one forensics firm, deleted pictures are saved in a hidden file in one’s phone. Pictures and video can be retrieved by someone with the correct skill set.
- The recipient can take a screen shot, although the sender will be notified if she does
- If the recipient has a jailbroken iPhone, he can save all incoming snaps without notifying the sender
- The recipient can take a photo of the snap with another phone or camera
- Unopened snaps are saved on Snapchat’s servers for 30 days
If someone does manage to get a picture that your child sent, it can be posted anywhere online, with or without your child’s knowledge. If your child is not sending or receiving anything untoward, the above issues really don’t matter much, but risks are risks.
No parental controls – Even if you use software downloaded to your child’s phone to monitor his activity, you won’t be able to see what he is sending or receiving via Snapchat.
Location data – In order to use certain Snapchat features, including Filters and Our Stories, users must opt in to sharing their location data. If your tween has Snapchat “friends’ who are actually strangers, this is a risk.
Who are your friends? – When you first download the app, you can build a list of Snapchat friends from you phone’s address book. For the average tween, this shouldn’t be a problem. We have, however, seen far too many examples of young users posting their Snapchat username online, either in forums or in their Instagram or Ask.fm profiles or feeds. This type of friend collecting can be very dangerous.
Questionable behavior is seen as acceptable – Young kids learn by example, and it’s no secret that while Snapchat is not only, or mostly used for sexting, it is the go-to app for sending risqué pics to a love interest. A study published last year found that 1 in 4 adolescents aged 12 – 14 are involved in sexting. Can the 10 – 12 year old crowd be far behind?
In Snapchat’s case the app is not the problem; user behavior is. It’s not much different from other social apps. From the document, “A Parents’ Guide to Snapchat”:
“…there’s no need to panic every time you hear a media report about something awful happening in social media. The reason the news media cover awful situations is because they’re rare. How often do you see headlines about planes landing safely?”
That’s true to a point, but if you are allowing a tween to download and use Snapchat, you are trusting that she is mature enough to keep herself safe from predators and cyberbullies, and to stick to age appropriate behavior. Since that’s a lot to ask of a youngster, we caution parents to wait until kids are older before allowing them to get involved with Snapchat.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.
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