The photo-sharing network Snapchat has over 100 million users worldwide, nearly a quarter whom are under 18, so if you are a parent it’s highly likely your child will encounter Snapchat at some point.
Snapchat is a social network where users send ‘Snaps’ - short videos or photos to Snapchat friends. Users can also send ‘Chats’, these are text messages.
What makes Snapchat different to Facebook or Twitter is that Snaps and Chat have a lifespan of between 1 and 10 seconds, after which they’ll disappear.
Snapchat only launched in 2011, so it’s a relatively new phenomenon. Eight billion videos are viewed every day and it’s mostly used by young people - 60% of the monthly US audience is under 24, with 23% aged between 13 and 17 years old.
Discover how Snapchat works and learn the hazards every parents need to be aware of.
Who can get a Snapchat account?
Enter an email, password and select a user name to get started. The account will need to be verified (to check you aren’t a bot) using a phone number or by selecting pictures.
Snapchat has a minimum age requirement of 13 years old, and users who enter a date of birth under 13 can’t set up an account.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to circumvent this using a fake date of birth and – as with Facebook – the service has no way of checking.
To send personal Snaps a phone needs a camera, although Chat messages can be sent without. You don’t need a camera to receive Snaps.
Snapchat needs internet access to work – either over wi-fi or using mobile data.
Connecting with people on Snapchat
To use Snapchat you need to add friends to the app’s contact list. These can be contacts from your phone’s address book, people you’ve found by searching for their user names (such as celebrities), users nearby and contacts made using Snapcode, a scannable barcode unique to each Snapchat user.
Your child can share a Snap or Chat with anyone from their friends list.
By default only users your child is friends with can send them Snaps. If a stranger tries to contact a user your child can choose to add them as a friend or not.
Snapchat is all about sharing photos and video, so like Facebook, children need to be careful what they take – and send - photos of.
Because Snapchat photos and videos disappear within seconds, you might think there’s less of a risk. Unfortunately many smartphones have a screenshot facility and there’s nothing to stop the recipient capturing an image of a Snap which will last forever and which can be shared online within seconds.
All social networks have potential problems. Your child could be at risk from bullying from people they connect with, they can be pressured into taking personal photos or they may be exposed to explicit content at an early age.
Social networks are an easy way to connect to people, but as they are essentially anonymous, it’s possible to build up a relationship with a stranger who isn’t who they say they are - for instance an adult posing as a child with the aim of grooming youngsters.
Check out our article Staying safe on social media: Advice for parents to find out more on all the above dangers.
Tips to help your child use Snapchat safely
1: Limit who can contact your child: Go to the Settings menu (it looks like a cog) and look for Who Can Contact Me and select My Friends. This means only people your child has added can send them a Snap.
2: Restrict who can see a Story: A Story is a selection of Snaps from the last 24 hours that (by default) anyone your child is friends with can view. To specify exactly who can see it, go to Settings – View My Story and select Custom to choose who can view it.
3: Turn off Location Services: ‘Add Nearby’ let’s your child add friends based on their proximity using location services. This could allow your child to connect with total strangers who happen to be in the vicinity.
Go to the Settings menu, click Manage - Permissions and click Edit Permissions at the bottom. Look for Location and turn it from While Using to Never. When your child tries to access features like Add Nearby, they’ll be prompted to turn on Location Services.
4: Block: If someone is upsetting your child you can block them so they can’t contact them. Tap My Friends and click on the name. Tap the Settings icon and click Block. Click here for more on Deleting and Blocking. The person blocked won’t be notified.
5: Reporting content: If your child is sent unsuitable content, email safety@Snapchat.com to report it.
Snapchat doesn’t release copies of Snaps, automatically deleting them once they’ve been viewed or expired, while unopened messages are deleted after 30 days.
6: Talk to your child: Encourage them to think before they send photos and discuss the consequences. Our article Tips to help children use the internet safely offers advice.
For a comprehensive and easy-to-use resource of the most up-to-date information for keeping your child safe online, check out Internet Matters.