Snapchat is a popular social media and chat app among kids and teens. But many parents don’t know how Snapchat works, and whether it’s safe for their child.
That’s why we’ve put together this ultimate guide to Snapchat for parents. Inside you’ll learn all about its features, potential risks, and recommended parental controls.
What is Snapchat? How does Snapchat work?
Snapchat is a popular social media and messaging app with over a half billion active monthly users. You can think of it as a kind of virtual photo booth. Users can hop on Snapchat to exchange photos and videos (called snaps) with one another. The app also lets users apply different filters, lenses, and video effects.
Quick Fact: Nearly two-thirds of Snapchat’s daily active users engage with AR filters in the app. According to Hootsuite, that’s about 200M users!
Users can send snaps directly to other users, or post snaps to their story. In-app friends can view snaps for up to 24 hours before they “disappear.” If anyone tries to screenshot a Snap before it disappears, whoever posted the Snap gets notified.
In addition, users can post to Snap Map. Snap Map displays location-tagged photos on a public map for anyone on Snapchat to see. Snapchat users can send group texts and participate in group stories, as well.
There’s also a feature called Snapchat Discover. This is a page that basically works like a news feed. Users can find content from news publishers, influencers, and even brands. Discover feeds are curated by Snapchat based on user behavior.
Much like TikTok, Snapchat has a Spotlight feature. Spotlight features 60-second video clips created by Snapchat users in a special section on the app. It’s similar to other TikTok competitors like Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts.
Keep in mind that most users on Snapchat are under the age of 35 (according to Hootsuite), but there’s no age verification process. In which case, it may be tough to tell how old the average user on Snapchat really is …
Is Snapchat safe for kids?
So, we know that Snapchat is entertaining. And we know that there are hundreds of millions of users on the app every single day. But … do we know if it’s safe for your kids? Let’s get into some safety concerns, pros, and cons about Snapchat.
How old do you have to be to have Snapchat?
According to the app’s terms of service, the Snapchat age requirement is 13. In other words, users aged 13 or over are allowed to create an account and use the app.
Snapchat also notes that anyone under the age of 18 has to have consent from their parent or legal guardian before using the app.
When users sign up, they have to enter a birth date — but there’s no formal age verification process. In which case, it’s easy for kids under the age of 13 to register. This also means it’s easy for kids under the age of 18 to register without parent or guardian consent.
Does Snapchat have privacy or safety features?
Yes, Snapchat has three major privacy and safety features.
#1: Safety Snapshot
Snapchat’s Safety Snapshot is an initiative designed to educate users about:
- Online safety risks
#2: Profile privacy for users under 18
Snapchat hides all profiles for users under the age of 18 from public browsing. So in theory, if your child is under the age of 18, their profile is excluded from browsable public profiles.
#3: Default chat functions
Snapchat has a few default chat functions. One of which prevents users from sending direct messages unless both users are “friends” in the app.
Pros of Snapchat for kids
Social media apps are a great way for kids to stay in touch with friends and socialize. Snapchat offers additional benefits that some other apps don’t.
For example, photos and videos aren’t displayed permanently on Snapchat. Instead, posted content “disappears” from feeds within 24 hours. Some parents feel this takes away the pressure for their children to earn “likes.”
In addition, content on Snapchat is highly curated. It’s all based on your child’s interests and in-app behavior. In theory, this prevents children from encountering content they shouldn’t.
Plus, parents can have their children follow certain publishers and channels in Snapchat. This gives parents more control over what their child sees as they browse.
Lastly, other users have to know your child’s username and phone number to send DMs. This reduces the risk of strangers messaging your child via Snapchat.
Cons of Snapchat for kids
Not every social media app is perfectly safe for kids — even Snapchat. Since kids can get around the age verification process, it’s possible that they’ll encounter mature content.
In addition, kids can still come in contact with strangers. Users can change their default settings, and allow strangers to contact them directly.
Another con about Snapchat is that snaps don’t always disappear entirely. As we already know, users can screenshot snaps directly on their phone. And although Snapchat usually sends a “screenshot alert” … it’s not 100% foolproof. Hang tight on this one — we’ll get into the details in a minute.
Lastly, since snaps disappear from the app, they’re tough for parents to monitor. This makes it easier for inappropriate content, bullying, and other problematic behavior to sneak into your child’s phone.
Do messages really disappear on Snapchat?
On one hand, yes. Snaps disappear from Snapchat. But that doesn’t mean snaps disappear completely and forever.
For example, Snapchat does send a “screenshot alert.” However, that doesn’t prevent users from taking screenshots. All it does is notify whoever posted a snap that another person took a screenshot.
Plus, there are ways around screenshots. Users can also use a second device to film or take photos of their primary device. Doing so won’t trigger a screenshot alert in Snapchat. And once photos are in someone else’s library, there’s no more control over those images.
Other Snapchat features
There are so many ways for kids to use Snapchat. Here’s a quick list of the more popular features and how they’re used:
A Snapstreak starts when friends Snap each other at least once in 24 hours, for three days straight.
Users can submit and view Snaps to an interactive Snap Map. These Snaps are tagged with locations so other users can see where they were taken.
Someone’s Snapchat Story is a collection of every Snap they’ve taken in the last 24 hours, in chronological order. These Snaps disappear after 24 hours.
Snapcodes are unique QR codes specific to an account. Users can post, share, and scan Snapcodes to connect with each other.
Snapchat Discover is essentially a news feed. Users can scroll their Discover pages to find content (in Story format) from publishers like the Wall Street Journal.
Launch and play games with friends directly from a chat. Snap Games enable co-play with friends via voice and text.
How to make Snapchat safer for kids: The parent’s guide
Want to know what you can do as a parent to keep Snapchat safe for your child? Here’s a list of must-know information to get started.
What should parents be concerned about with Snapchat?
Parents have a tough time monitoring Snapchat because all the content disappears quickly. In which case, it’s hard to know whether your child is:
- Engaging in inappropriate behavior
- Being bullied
- Sending inappropriate pictures
In which case, here are some tips every parent should know about Snapchat.
Turn on the “My Eyes Only” feature
Snapchat has a feature called “My Eyes Only.” This feature protects content (like photos) behind a password wall. Users have to type in the passcode before they can view protected Snaps and Stories. This gives your child an extra layer of protection when it comes to sharing (or storing) videos and photos.
Adjust Snap Map location settings
Even though Snap Map is a fun way to connect with friends, it exposes your child’s location. We recommend you turn off location settings for Snapchat, here’s how:
- Open your child’s main settings menu
- Scroll through the list of apps until you find Snapchat
- Tap on Snapchat and look for a tab called “Permissions” (NOTE: This may vary from device to device)
- Disable the toggle next to “Location” or “Location Sharing”
This prevents Snapchat from accessing your child’s location.
Exert control over the Discover feed
Everyone’s Discover feed is unique in Snapchat. Since the Discover feed is based on your child’s preferences and in-app behavior, it’s possible to influence what shows up. Here are some strategies to control your child’s Discover feed:
NOTE: You will have to have access to your child’s Snapchat account for each of these methods.
Your child can “subscribe” to different publishers in Snapchat. When they do, the publisher’s content shows up in the Discover feed. Review your child’s subscription list and remove any publishers you don’t feel are appropriate.
Train Snapchat’s algorithm
Snapchat’s algorithm learns what your child is interested in. We recommend scrolling through your child’s Discover feed and tapping through several “good” Stories. The algorithm picks up on this, and is more likely to deliver similar content in the Discover feed.
Report inappropriate ads
Ads do pop up in Discover feed Stories. If you feel your child is exposed to inappropriate ads, scroll through the app until you encounter one. Tap the “i” icon on the ad and tap “report ad.”
Do this a few times and you should notice a significant change in the types of ads that pop up on your child’s account.
Change user preferences
First, visit the main settings menu in Snapchat and tap “Clear Cache.” Once the cache clears, quit and relaunch the app.
Then, go to “Manage” >> “Additional Services” >> “Ad Preferences” >> “Lifestyle & Interests.”
Scroll through the list of preferences and adjust toggles as necessary. Keep toggles on for content you want your child to encounter. Turn toggles off for content you don’t want your child to encounter.
Talk with your child
Above all, it’s important you communicate with your kid about Snapchat and online safety. Let your child know that Snapchat can be dangerous for kids, and gently tell them why.
Lastly, make sure your child knows they can come to you with any safety questions and concerns. If your child knows they can approach you without judgment, they may be more likely to open up if something’s wrong.
Final thoughts on Snapchat for kids
Parenting children in the age of social media is difficult, to say the very least. And while chat apps can help kids socialize, they all come with their own challenges. So here’s a quick recap on everything you need to know as a parent when it comes to Snapchat:
- Snapchat is a social media and chat app meant for users at least 13 of age or older
- There is no age verification process. In which case, it’s easy for users to fudge how old they actually are
- Take advantage of every safety feature Snapchat offers. This includes Safety Snapshot and default chat settings
- Remind your child that even though Snaps disappear from the app in 24 hours, it’s possible that other people save them anyway
- Turn on the “My Eyes Only” feature in your child’s Snapchat account
- Turn off Snapchat location services through your child’s main phone settings
- Exert control over what content your child sees in their Discover feed
Ready to learn even more about social media parental controls? Visit the MMGuardian blog for tons of helpful information, critical safety updates, and more. We recommend you bookmark the blog and check back frequently so you don’t miss out.