As parents, we can be under frequent pressure to download particular apps. This pressure tends to come from our children and their friends (who allegedly ALL have it). Snapchat is one social media app that children seem particularly drawn to. According to recent data, 71% of 13-17-year-olds in the UK who use the internet, use Snapchat, so it’s pretty popular. Younger children may be attracted to it because of its seemingly innocuous visuals and the promise of ‘disappearing messages’. There is certainly an immediacy to it that appeals to children of all ages. It is considered a light-hearted app, full of fun filters and visuals. Of course, it is light-hearted as long as it is used appropriately, which isn’t always the case.
First and foremost, I suggest that you have some exploratory chats with your son. Tell me more about why you want this app? What do you know about it? What do your friends enjoy about it? You might even consider asking one of his close friends if they could ‘run’ you and your son through how it works. This exercise may also reassure you that his friends understand appropriate use (see below).
Emphasise and model to your child that getting an app like Snapchat should be done with some consideration, particularly as it is designed for older children, aged 13+. In doing so, you are teaching him to be discerning, which is always a good thing when it comes to digital tech.
If you decide to allow your pre-teen child to use Snapchat, I suggest that you run through this important checklist with them and spend time discussing each point:
- I understand that Snapchat is really for teenagers, so I have to be very careful using it.
- I understand that I am only allowed to send messages to particular friends and that we discuss who this might be together (ask them to explain why this is important. You can choose who can send them messages and view their stories by accessing privacy settings. Select the gear icon on the profile page and choose one of two options: ‘Everyone’ or ‘My Friends’ – their contacts).
- I know I am not allowed to share my Snapchat password (ask them to explain why this is important).
- I know how to screenshot any upsetting or harmful content, report another user and block or delete someone (ask them to talk you through how this is done in practice).
- I know that you can look at my Snapchat account at any time to check that I am being kind to others and that others are being kind to me (ask them to tell you what might constitute ‘unkind’ behaviour on Snapchat).
- I understand that I am not allowed to use Snapchat at night time when I am meant to be asleep. (Snapchat fared particularly badly in terms of its impact on children’s sleep, as well as FOMO, bullying and body image, in a survey completed by the Youth Health Movement in 2017).
- I understand that there is an ‘Add Nearby’ feature, which I am not allowed to use. I understand that if this is not turned off, strangers may be able to contact me and trace my whereabouts (Cyberbullying Research Center).
- I understand that even though Snapchat images ‘disappear’, they don’t really, as they are still stored somewhere by the Snapchat company and also, the person I send snaps to, can easily copy the image and send it to others.
- I promise to tell you immediately if I regret sending a particular image, if someone is upset with something that I sent to them or if I receive something that worries me.
- I understand that there are consequences for ignoring the family rules around using Snapchat.
It is not uncommon for parents to disagree about whether or not a child is ready for social media. Ideally, and where relevant, everything above should be discussed between you and your partner or co-parent, ahead of the ‘bigger chat’ with your child. If one parent is ambivalent, the other should try to listen empathetically to any concerns. Try, as far as possible, to present a ‘united front of parent’ when it comes to the final decision.
Helping our children to navigate the digital world in all its complexity is challenging and requires good quality, evidence-informed conversations at home, as well as lots of mutual understanding. We need to parent, not police, and involve children in rich conversations where we model a proactive, yet discerning approach. Children’s appetite for apps and games evolves over time, but by cultivating good digital values within family life, we set them up to be good digital citizens for life.