Thanks to Snapchat, watching out for my kids is trickier than ever.

Snapchat, pfff. Life was easier when my kids were all little, and Facebook was a fun startup for college kids. Even though I didn’t grow up online like kids are now, I’m no slouch. I’ve been using social media since its inception. Like Amy Poehler’s character in “Mean Girls,” when it comes to social networking, I often like to think, “I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom.” Heck, I was banging out selfies before my daughter could even hold the phone. 

But despite my best efforts, I find half the time I’m just trying to keep up with my kids online now that they’re teenagers. Facebook seems to have become the place where moms and grandmas hang out. My kids do still use Instagram, and I make sure to follow them and their friends – not to be creepy, just smart. Their moms follow my kids too, and I think it’s great. They know they’re accountable for what they post online, because we can see it. 

And just when I think I’m up to date on the latest apps, along comes Snapchat.

First of all, here’s why Snapchat is cool.

First Cool Thing: Snapchat’s “Discover”

Tap the purple circle at the top of your story feed to use the Discover, you’ll get the Snapchat version of the news and entertainment of the day, made by pros.  Then just tap your favorite content maker to connect with their version of the world.

Snapchat Discover Page

Snapchat Discover Page

  • How To Navigate Discover:
    • Step 1: Tap on a channel
    • Step 2: Swipe up to read an article
    • Step 3: Swipe right to find more articles by that channel
    • Step 4: Swipe left to get back  to the Discover page.

Second Cool Thing: Individual Snaps

Snapchat allows you to send a message that will disappear once it has been viewed. Kind of a nice way to demand someone’s undivided attention. On the other hand… this is where Snapchat starts to go south with a lot of users, especially young ones. I’ll discuss more below.

Third Cool Thing: Stories

A few months ago you may have noticed that your Instagram homescreen changed. So did your facebook screen. They introduced “stories”.  All they were really doing  is trying to wow back their users who were loving it on Snapchat already. Cooking a burger? Film it. Eating it now? Film it. Alien’s land in your yard? Film it. Snapchat stitches it together into one seamless story that your followers can watch at their leisure… until it disappears the next day and you start over with a new story.

Last Cool Thing: Filters/Lenses

Snapchat Filters

See, just like that I’m a hipster kitty.
P.S.– thanks for the base layer Snapchat. #notmyglasses #notmyears

Snapchat has given users more tools to express your creativity. You can write on your post, emoji it up, but most of all I like the filters (or in Snapchatese “Lenses). See?

Why Snapchat Scares me and some helpful hints

I have to admit Snapchat, while cool, has kind of thrown me for a loop. There seem to be so many ways to get into trouble or get taken advantage of. Snapchat gives kids an avenue to send potentially compromising photos that they believe will disappear, though these photos can be saved through a simple screenshot on the other end. They can also be groomed by predators through the app, like one Texas father found out when his teenage daughter was groomed by an older man over Snapchat. The father said his daughter eventually met the man at a party and then disappeared. The father, who says his daughter was taken for sex trafficking, tracked his daughter and her alleged captor to an apartment building and was able to rescue her. The captor later pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution of a minor. Though this story is truly terrifying as a parent, I love that the father took matters into his own hands and was able to prevent a tragic ending.

The sad reality is that stories like this one are more than just a cautionary tale. And while that scares me to death, I know I have to make sure I am tech-savvy enough to help my kids stay out of trouble. These safety tips for parents and kids are a great place to start. And while they’re geared for Snapchat, remember that they can apply to a lot of social media platforms.

  • Manage your settings – Check the privacy settings on Snapchat frequently. They “My Friends” setting only allows snaps to and from people on the friends list, which is a good idea for kids.
  • Personal information – It’s always a good idea for kids to be careful what information they share online. Make sure they understand to never share identifying information like their phone number, address and other valuable information.
  • Saving snaps – Although snaps are designed to disappear, viewers can take a screenshot or take a photo with another device. As a basic rule, kids shouldn’t send snaps that would get them into trouble with their parents or in the future when they want to get into college or get a job.
  • Passwords – Help your kids to make strong and unique passwords that they don’t share with anyone but you.
  • Parental controls – Use the parental controls on your kids’ devices to manage their usage.
  • Real friends – Teach your kids the importance of adding only people they actually know as friends online.
  • Bullying – Talk with your kids about bullying in person and online. Make sure they know it is wrong and that they can talk to a trusted adult if they are the victim of bullying.
  • Nudity – Have frank discussions with your kids about sharing nude photos online. Not only can it put them in a compromising situation if they send a nude photo, but the authorities can charge them with a crime if they possess or receive inappropriate photos from minors.

On a hopeful note…

You may not be able to limit your kids’ Snapchat activity to sending you selfies with funny filters, but if you teach them good safety habits, their online activity doesn’t need to keep you up at night either. Keeping your kids safe online can seem like a scary and daunting task. I often feel overwhelmed when I think about all the new technology that comes out every day that my kids will have access to, but with the right tools in hand, parents can keep their kids safe and help them make wise decisions online.

So just treat social media like you treated the park when they were little. Hang out there.  Watch them play. Be in the conversation so when a bad guy comes around you’re already there.

Thanks guys! Happy Snapping…

and remember, your snaps don’t really  “disappear”