Talking to your kids about the Snapchat App. A.K.A. “The Sexting App.” (Eek.)

This morning, our editor Liz Gumbinner talked to the TODAY Show about the pitfalls of SnapChat, the most popular app you’ve probably never heard of. But you should. Especially if you’re the parent of a teen.

Also known as the “sexting app,” this popular app (more downloads than even Instagram!) allows the user–with an average age of 13-24–to send a photo with text or a drawing over it to a contact, then set the photo to self-destruct in 10 seconds or less. The problems? Well, the promise of photos with no evidence can easily lure kids into more risky behavior than they might normally take.

Unfortunately however, the contact has the ability to take a screenshot. And then what he does with that screenshot is out of your hands. The last thing you want is for your teen to make a silly mistake that ends up as a compromising photo or embarrassing text that spreads all over the internet, and has potentially long-term consequences.

Our top 4 tips for handling SnapChat if you’re a parent with a tween or teen:

1. Research the app yourself so you know what you’re talking about.
The great news is, now that parents are aware of SnapChat (even if it’s a year later), you’re far more armed and ready than you were before. It’s free for both Android and iOS, and the cutesie graphics are definitely meant to appeal to the Jr High set, not the match.com set.

snapchat app

2. Talk to your kids about the internet, privacy and safety early and often.
It’s never too early to start. The very best thing you can do is keep the lines of communication open so you know what apps your kids are using and how. It’s the smartest way to minimize risky behavior in general.

In fact, we love this quote from a friend who’s the mother of a 12 year-old: “I love that my daughter first taught me about SnapChat, and anticipated my concern by telling me she knows exactly how people can misuse it and she would never send inappropriate photos!”

(Props to you and your daughter, mama!)

3. Decide whether to ban the app
With younger teens, you have more control over the content on your kids’ phones and their internet usage, but we’ve found that kids are happy to use it in groups through friends’ phones. You know your kid best, of course; but sometimes letting your child make the choice for herself not to use it, will be far more effective.

4. Talk about the right way to use it.
If you think your child (like our friend’s, above) is capable of using it for its so-called intended use–sharing silly spontaneous photos with friends that disappear–discuss the limits. Make sure they’re only sharing with friends and family they know, and nothing that is embarrassing or compromising. Not to be alarmist, but you never know what creeps are out there pretending to be kids. Or what creeps are kids themselves, trying to convince your kids to do something unsavory. They might even be grabbing screenshots of that so-called limited time photo which now isn’t limited time after all.

snapchat screenshot

Also, make sure that your child tells you right away if she’s ever feeling coerced into sending a photo that makes them feel uncomfortable so you can take action. Let’s be honest, part of being a teen is making mistakes and learning from them. They’re not any different than we were in that sense. We just hope that in this age of “the internet is forever,” that they’re making mostly the kinds of mistakes that we can all laugh about later. -Liz + Kristen

Catch Cool Mom Tech on the TODAY Show discussing SnapChat via this link.

[images via snapchat, montage via NYT]

Cool Mom Staff

We spend our time looking for cool stuff so you don't have to. Hope this one fits the bill.

4 Comments

  • Reply December 4, 2012

    Linda L

    Saw the piece on Today this morning and decided to check out your site. Glad I don’t have to worry about this yet!

  • Reply December 4, 2012

    kim

    We recently had an issue where my teen was involved in a testing exchange with someone he did not know. That may sound odd, but is very common among that age group. The convo took a weird turn where they other person started saying inappropriate things and mentioning his long-lasting skills in bed despite being a grandpa….

    My son told me about it and after seeking advice on Facebook, we went to the police. We filed a complaint, not actual charges. But at least the police have his number on record should anyone else come in with a complaint.

  • Reply December 5, 2012

    Todd

    Why is it that no one is going after cam sites like Chat Roulette or Stickam? I’ve heard teens talking about doing striptease (or worse) for total strangers, and NO ONE with any authority has done diddly squat against the above mentioned camsites. there are even videosites dedicated to posting recorded “chats” featuring young children that held “private chats” on stickam.

    Honestly, I don’t see why a 10 year old even NEEDS to have a cellphone in the first place. I think parents need to take a more proactive stance on what goes on in thier child’s life. Those of you who are parents know there are some incredibly sick people out there just clamoring for a “private” video chat with your child on Stickam and ChatRoulette. Why the hell does a child have an account on Stickam anyway? Oh, I know. the parent doesn’t care. That’s the only reason I can think of.

  • Reply December 5, 2012

    moosh in indy

    That’s it.
    My kids are staying toddlers forever.
    I don’t care if I never have nice things again.

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