Snapchat: How the photo-sharing app works and dangers parents need to be aware of

Discover more about the photo-sharing social network and what you need to be aware of if your children are Snapchat users.

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. Ten billion videos are viewed every day and it’s very popular with young people, with 41 percent of users between 18-34.

[Read more: How to use Snapchat]

Discover how Snapchat works and learn the hazards every parents need to be aware of. For more advice on keeping your children safe online BT recommends visiting Internet Mattersa not for profit e-safety organisation.

Who can get a Snapchat account?

Snapchat works using an app, with iOS (iPhone) and Android versions available as free downloads.

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.

Snapchat icon on phone

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.

[Read more: 7 Snapchat tips and tricks]

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.

Phone with Snapchat, person tapping screen to add friend

Snapchat dangers

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.

Woman and child looking at phone

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 – Who Can - View My Story and use Custom to block specific friends.

3: Quick Add lets you add friends quickly: Turn this off in Settings - Who Can - Show Me in Quick Add and turn if off.

4: Turn off Location Services Your child can share their location with friends. This could allow your child to connect with total strangers who happen to be in the vicinity.

  • Go to Settings - Who Can - See My Location and activate Ghost Mode.
  • Go to the apps Settings menu, click Manage - Permissions. Look for Location and ensure it's disabled. You may need to go into your phone's general Settings menu to turn it off.

5: Block: If someone is upsetting your child you can block them so they can’t contact them. Go to a chat with that friend. Tap the Menu and click Block. Click here for more on Deleting and Blocking. The person blocked won’t be notified.

[Read more: How to delete Snapchat]

Snapchat - Delete or block a user

5: Reporting content:  If your child is sent unsuitable content, email 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.

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