If you aren’t on Snapchat, then the chances are the first thing you learn about it is via shocking headlines warning of “bullying threats” and “sexting dangers”.
Snapchat is the social network that lets you send pictures and videos to your friends on the basis that the images vanish within ten seconds. Though created for adults, it is already popular with schoolchildren and reports claim that up to 25 per cent of 10 year olds use it regularly.
On the face of it, images that delete themselves might seem like a good idea – no embarrassing pictures to haunt you forever – but that’s not the case. It’s child’s play to either take a screen shot or install an app that stores Snapshot pictures.
The flipside of messages that delete within seconds is that they are the ideal vehicle for bullies knowing digital attacks may appear to go unrecorded.
It’s alarming to see how the dual threat from sexting or bullying could leave teenagers vulnerable on several fronts. Indeed, there are cases of salacious images circulating widely and of Snapchat being behind increased cases of cyber bullying.
In response schools across the country – from Eton College to more than half of those in Scottish local authorities – appear to have taken a tough line and banned Snapchat. Although, when they say banned, they mean blocked from the schools’ wifi servers and punishments issued to children found using it – an almost meaningless response.
As a parent, you may have thought that action has been taken and you can rest a little more easily now this heinous threat has been thwarted. Clearly this is not the case.
Firstly, most youngsters are far more likely to access the internet (and therefore Snapchat) via 3G, at home, or numerous other places wifi is available from coffee shops to buses, rendering a “ban” meaningless.
And secondly children are already instructed not to use their phones in class but, particularly in high schools, controlling what they do out of sight of teachers is almost impossible.
Snapchat – along with every other social network or messaging forum – is here to stay so we need to get used to the idea. Besides, used correctly it can be lots of fun and certainly not as terrifying and fraught as the alarmist headlines suggest. Here’s what you can do to help keep your children safe:
- Discuss Snapchat with your children and young adults, make sure they understand that whatever they post could end up going further than their intended destination.
- Make sure they understand what bullying might feel like and what they should do if it happens.
Shona Bruce of West Dunbartonshire Reduce Abuse said: “Young people trust Snapchat as they are told that the image or video will be deleted in a selected period of time.
“This could encourage people to do or say things they might not usually risk. Girls may be persuaded to take explicit photos or videos that they would usually refuse because they trust that they will be deleted.
“However, these images can be ‘stolen’ and saved to a phone or computer without the knowledge or consent of the sender.”
Dr Richard Woolfson, child psychologist and Knowthenet spokesman, added: “The internet offers wonderful experiences for growing and inquisitive young minds.
“Yet, as social media has removed the barriers between a young person’s public and private self, children can become vulnerable, and compulsive online sharing can lead to danger.
“Parents can no longer protect children by simply trying to limit their online experiences.
“Instead parents need to maintain an open dialogue and encourage children to share both good and bad online experiences, talk openly and straightforwardly about the risks they may encounter online without scaring them and make sure they keep up with the latest social media crazes and work with their children rather than trying to control them.”