Mom, Can I Have Snapchat?

Snapchat_LogoFIVE CONSIDERATIONS TO PONDER

Remember the good ol’ days when our biggest concern was the 3,000+ texts our daughters averaged per month?

Sure, young people still text, but with 84% of 12-17-year-old mobile subscribers having smartphones this year… apps are the new gateways of communication.

So what is the favorite communication app used by young people today?

Snapchat, “by a landslide.”

“Snapchat because it’s pretty much just texting, but with pictures of my beautiful face” — a 16-year-old

Snapchat probably needs no introduction. It’s the extremely popular app that allows kids to take a picture or video, type about 40 characters, and then send it to whoever they choose…. but then the content disappears between 1 to 10 seconds after being viewed.

Kind of. (More on that in a minute)

Snap is going gangbusters. They even expect to launch Snap glasses, called Spectacles, later this year. It’s a fun way to communicate. Young people love sending Snap’s quick pics to each other with its creative coloring options and it’s cool filters. That’s probably why it’s become one of teens and tweens favorite communication tools.

Yes, it’s kind of confusing when people talk about teens’ “favorite” apps. You’ll read one article talking about how kids favorite “brand” is YouTube (no doubt, a very popular site among young people), then you’ll read countless others (Statista, AdWeek, Pew…) citing Facebook and Instagram as the social media site most teens have, with Snap coming in third. Just bare in mind, some of those studies are now a year old, which we all know, in tech years is like a zillion years old! And some of those studies aren’t asking, “What app do young people actually USE when they want to talk with their friends throughout the day?”

This is where Snap rules the roost.

Ash SnapMy own daughters and their friends (now 19 and 21) use it constantly. That’s why Lori and I have it. We can keep up with what our girls are doing day to day (they are in college 500 miles away).

“So much homework!” – sent with a picture of their laptop open next to a stack of books.

“Morning coffee run!” – sent with a picture of their favorite Starbucks mug.

“Jealous!!!” – sent with a selfie, with jaw dropped, in response to Mom’s snap of the piece of cake she was eating.

Snapchat isn’t that perfect photo that users spend 7 minutes doctoring to look better than reality. It’s a tool people use to show their friends what they are doing or feeling at that very moment, with an image that won’t be posted on a wall somewhere forever. It’s a “less demanding way to share than Facebook or Instagram.”

But it’s that very perception that pics are “ephemeral” or “temporary” that had most experts concerned about the app on the onset, myself included. It’s no secret that when the app launched, it was created as a safe way to sext.

After all… the picture disappears… right?

This is where parents really need to educate their kids about apps in general. Parents shouldn’t just provide a list of good apps and bad apps. That list will become outdated before the ink dries. Instead, parents should help their kids learn how to make wise social media decisions. For example:

  • Nothing you send or post is ever temporary. Snapchat is no exception (More about that here). So be careful when an app claims that the content “disappears.” Don’t ever post a comment or picture that you don’t want your dad, pastor, future boss, and future spouse to see. 93% of hiring managers will review a candidate’s social profile before making a hiring decision. And even if your boss misses it… there’s a day when all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open (Luke 8:17). So live your lives in a way that silences any accusers (I Peter 2:15).
  • Anonymity is actually only perceived anonymity, and it breeds carelessness. The world is embracing anonymity because people like a lack of accountability. But the truth is, we are all accountable for our actions and our comments (I Peter 4:11).

So if you decide to let your kids use Snapchat, then make sure they understand two things:

  • These pictures and comments are being routed through a server where people have access to them. Yes, some random tech guy in Venice, CA can see what you just sent to your boyfriend.
  • Your boyfriend can screenshot that picture and message you just sent. Sure, now Snapchat has a notification when someone screenshots you, but isn’t that a little too late? And many are discovering ways to circumvent these speedbumps.

So let me ask the question that I’m asked frequently from parents at my parent workshop:

Should I let my kids use Snapchat?

And my answer is: depends.

Again, I’m not one to provide you lists of good and bad apps. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when media experts like Common Sense Media post articles about the anonymous apps kids are using. But parents must always remember to not just give our kids a fish… but teach them to fish.

So if your kid wants Snapchat—consider this:

  • How old are they? Most experts say that kids shouldn’t even have a phone until 12-years-old, and most social media platforms don’t even allow kids under 13, thanks to COPPA, the Children Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). And Snapchat has had its fair share of runins with COPPA already. So if your 11-year-old asks you to be on Snapchat, you have an easy out. “Sorry Brianne, it’s the law.”
  • Do they understand that Snapchat pictures are not truly temporary? Educate them about some of these realities before they hit download.
  • Are they exhibiting good discernment? Like most apps, Snapchat users have the ability to follow and view all kinds of people posting all kinds of content posted as “stories.” So kids must learn good discernment with Snapchat just like they do with TV, music, Google and every other entertainment media and social media outlet.
  • If you do decide to let them have Snapchat, then you get it too. Use it as a fun way to communicate back and forth with them throughout the day. Monitor their stories to see what they are posting (realizing, all their posts aren’t posted to their “Story”).
  • If they’re older- like 16 or 17- educate them, and let them make the decision. Learn to ask them good questions that lead them toward truth. Remember, when your kid turns 18, they have the freedom to move out and start making these decisions for themselves. Then they can download whatever they want. Are you using your time with them to prepare them for that day?

JONATHAN McKEE is the author of over 20 books, including 52 WAYS TO CONNECT WITH YOUR SMARTPHONE OBSESSED KID. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide. Bring him to your city.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry,is the author of twenty books including the brand new 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; More Than Just the Talk; Sex Matters; The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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3 Responses to Mom, Can I Have Snapchat?

  1. Nicole Breuk says:

    There is also the problem of sliding one screen over in Snapchat and all the articles that teens are exposed to. The majority of them are like something from Cosmopolitan. The majority of them are inappropriate, and anything with the Kardashians shows the most revealing pics. You might want to check it out and add that to your article. Thanks for all the work you do with teens I appreciate your articles. 🙂

    • Good point Nicole… that was what I was trying to give parents a glimpse of in the third bullet at the end of the article- and if you click that link for “all kinds of content” you’ll see an example. Snapchat is yet another example of a platform where kids can wonder into areas they don’t belong… just like Google, just like YouTube, just like Netflix… just like areas in our neighborhoods. There are good areas and bad ones. That’s why we desperately need to teach discernment.

  2. Emily says:

    Jonathan THANK YOU!!! Thank you for your thoughtful way of writing that does not point fingers but encourages adults to look at their own parenting and examine it based on personal context. This type of blog writing is much needed. Praise God for you.