The day our daughter learned how to download apps was the day we became years behind in parenting. Just last week, I learned how to install a keyboard on my iPhone that contains emoticons. Yes, just last week. Now I end every message with some type of image that simplifies the main idea of my communication. If we’re out of kitty kibble, then I’ll send my husband a text asking him to stop at the store before coming home.
Ringo needs food, I write. And then I add two images: a paw print and a plate of spaghetti.
The app that’s trending now is called Snapchat, and if you haven’t heard of it (please tell me you haven’t), clear your calendar for the next five minutes and read on.
I’m serious when I type that I hope I’m not alone in this new Snapchat discovery. I like to think of myself as a newcomer when it comes to teenage interests, but when it comes to technology, teenagers call me an oldtimer. I guess the emoticon thing showed my age.
According to website research, Snapchat is a photo messaging app developed by two students once enrolled at Stanford University. After downloading Snapchat, customers can use their cellphones to take photos, shoot videos, add drawings and content to send to a list of recipients. If the user sends a video or a picture, then the content is called a “Snap”. Everything else is just a chat.
Teens (and tweens that are underage) are in love with the app because Snaps aren’t supposed to last forever. The user sets a time limit for the Snap to be available to the list of recipients once it’s opened, from one to 10 seconds. Once this timeframe ends, the Snaps are hidden from the recipient’s iPhone or Andriod, and it’s deleted from Snapchat’s server — at some point, which isn’t quite clear.
Studies show that Snapchat is most popular among teens, but the over-40 crowd is getting in on the action as a means of monitoring their children’s activity. However, the two Stanford University students who became wealthy entrepreneuers at a tune of $860 million (with an option to sell to Facebook for $3 billion — but they declined), also created an app for the even younger market. Snapkidz, an app for boys and girls under the age of 13, is a sibling app that allows children to take snaps and draw on them, but their creations can’t be sent to anyone else, nor can the artwork be saved.
Why should parents be concerned? As a starting point, Snaps come and go so quickly that parents might not be able to keep up with the content being sent or received by their children. To that end, Snapchat has developed a nine page guide for parents, which explains virtually every aspect of the app to help ease concerns. However, this parent didn’t feel much better about the app after reading a section that explained that it’s “not okay to create, send, receive, or save a sexually explicit image of a minor.”
But wait — I thought images disappeared in as little as two seconds! Snapchat went on to state in the guide that “…although messages are designed to disappear in 10 seconds or less, there is NO guarantee that the recipeient won’t take a picture (screenshot) of the message.”
While the app is free, the fun may be costly — if not dangerous. Parents need to preach until they’re blue in the face that THINK BEFORE YOU SEND is the number one rule for any type of social networking. This also pertains to THINK BEFORE YOU RECEIVE, given the frequency of inappropriate Snaps and sexting traffic. If parents intend to oversee the messages their teen receives through Snapchat, “then mom or dad should instruct their teen not to open Snapchat messages until they can be viewed together.”
Right. As if that’s going to happen.
But Snapchat also advises parents to look at the app through teenage eyes. It’s designed to be a source of entertainment (the type of entertainment is hotly debated, no pun intended). The creators stress that “…life is to be shared in the moment, for the moment. If you aren’t enjoying it, then you’re doing it wrong.”
However, in this mother’s opinion, if you delete the app from your child’s phone, you’re doing it right.