teen girl taking a selfie in front of a map icon

As parents and educators, it can be difficult to stay informed about all of the social media apps that are being used by our children and students. In this blog series we are calling “Social Media 101 – What’s Out There?” we will provide you with an overview of some of the apps that our children and students are using most frequently. The more knowledge you have about an app, the easier it will be to engage in conversations with your children and students about it.

What is Snapchat?
Snapchat is a messaging and camera app that allows people to connect in the moment with temporary messages/images/videos called “snaps”. It has five main features: Map, Chat, Camera, Stories, and Spotlight. Snapchat, by design, is meant to be a quick and easy communication tool that highlights in-the-moment conversations and communication. For that reason, snaps automatically delete after they have been read by all recipients. 

Is Snapchat free?
While most teens use the free version of Snapchat, they are now offering a subscription based model called Snapchat+ that allows users access to premium features like Bitmoji Backgrounds to add flair to your Bitmoji and Ghost Trails to see your friends’ movements for a 24 hour period. After signing up, the subscription is automatically billed to your App Store, Google Play account or linked credit card, so talk to your teens about Snapchat+ to make sure they know it includes a cost before you get an unexpected charge. 

How does Snapchat work?
Once an account is created, users add friends and can begin communicating with those friends once they “add them back”. They can see friends who are sharing location via the Snap Map, send messages, photos and videos via Chat, post videos or images to their Stories, and browse Snaps created by others in the Spotlight section.

What is a Snap Map?
The Snap Map allows people to see the location of other Snapchat users (who are sharing their location) as well as business hours and reviews. Location sharing is turned off by default. When Snap Map is opened for the first time, the user will be asked who they would like to share their location with. Users can turn on Ghost Mode to ensure their location is not shared with anyone and change who can see their location at any time in the settings. 

How does Chat work?
The chat feature in Snapchat allows users to have video, photo, audio, and text chats. By default, messages are automatically deleted once they are read by all recipients. However, friends can take screenshots or save chat messages. When a chat message is saved or a screenshot is taken, the person who sent the message is notified. When sending a snap, the sender can use the timer feature to set how long the snap can be viewed. Snaps that have a specific limit set cannot be saved in chat.   

How does the camera work?
Snapchat opens to the camera by default. Photo or video snaps taken using the camera can be sent to friends and will then appear in the chat section of the app. The camera allows users to add filters, text, stickers, and attachments to customize their snaps. 

What are Snapchat Stories?
When someone shares a snap to their Snapchat story, others can view the snap an unlimited number of times within 24 hours. Stories, by default, are visible to all friends. Users can also create private stories and shared stories. Private stories are only visible to specific friends. Shared stories can be shared with multiple friends. All friends in the shared group can view and add snaps to the story. Snaps that are added to Stories will show in the order that they were created and will automatically delete after 24 hours. Many users use Snapchat Stories to repost videos they have posted on other platforms like TikTok. In Stories, users also see a section called Discover that contains content created by celebrities, news and entertainment outlets, and random users directing them to creator pages, advertisements/company websites, and marketing quizzes. 

What is the Snapchat Spotlight?
The Snapchat Spotlight is a newer feature that highlights short user-submitted videos. All users can submit videos, but Snapchat only chooses certain videos to include in Spotlight. Other Snapchat users can subscribe to creator content that appears in Spotlight and creators with the top snaps have a chance to receive financial rewards from Snapchat. Creators can also win prizes for submitting top-performing Snaps as part of Spotlight Challenges.  

What are Snapstreaks?
Snapstreaks are a tally of how many consecutive days two users have exchanged snaps (not just chat messages). After 3 days of consecutive snaps sent between one person and another,  a fire emoji appears next to that person’s name in their chat list and shows the length of the Snapstreak.

What are the benefits of using Snapchat?
Many children use Snapchat to communicate with their friends outside of school. As my fourteen year old’s best friend says, “It’s just so easy to talk to people because EVERYONE is on Snap.” It allows students to communicate in creative ways using the camera and filters to express themselves in the moment. 

What are some of the drawbacks of using Snapchat?
Like other social media apps, Snapchat can feel overwhelming for some teens. It is common for teens to send a snap to many or all friends at once causing an almost constant barrage of Snapchat notifications. Additionally, teens often feel pressure to keep up Snapstreaks or avoid leaving their friends on “read” or “delivered”. These issues can make Snapchat feel like a full time job and can take away from time spent on school or other activities. 

Given the temporary nature of Snapchat, teens will sometimes send snaps that they wouldn’t send via other social media platforms. However, once those snaps are saved or screenshotted, some teens have to face unintended consequences. 

Additionally, concerns have been raised about teens who have used Snapchat to connect with strangers to obtain drugs, as was the tragic case of Rocklin, CA teen, Zach Didier.

If my child uses Snapchat, what can I do to help limit their exposure to inappropriate content or people with whom I do not want them to interact? 

  • By default, users cannot receive Snaps from people they have not added as friends. Talk to your child about who they add as friends on Snapchat. They should only add (or add back) people that they know in real life. 
  • Use the Family Center in-app feature of Snapchat to learn more about who your child is communicating with and what types of messages they are sending. 
  • Set the privacy settings to the most restrictive options
    • Set their Snap Maps to Ghost Mode or restrict location sharing to a small group of friends.
    • Set View My Story to My Friends or create a custom list of only a few friends.
    • Set Contact Me to Friends.
    • Turn off the option to show their profile in Quick Add.
    • Set Spotlight Reply Settings to Manually Approve
    • For CA users, set California Privacy Choices to Limit the Use of Sensitive Personal Information. 
  • Snapchat is now available on the web. So, even if your child does not have the app on their phone, they might be using Snapchat on their computer.

Keeping up with the latest apps and privacy settings can be overwhelming even for those of us that research these things on the regular. As parents, the goal should be a general understanding and overview of the apps your children and their friends are using to stay connected. Google is your friend. A quick search of any app name combined with parental controls and the current year is a great way to learn more about recommendations when it comes to the safest settings for your children when using specific apps.

Below are some links to Snapchat parent guides
Parent’s Ultimate Guide to Snapchat (Source: Common Sense)
A Parents & Guardians Guide to Snapchat (Source: Snapchat)
Parent’s Guide to Snapchat (Source: ConnectSafely)

Is there an app you would like us to highlight next? Drop us a comment to let us know.