Snapchat is wildly popular. Despite the fact that you have to be 13 years or older to use the app, many kids have an account. While most children like the fact that they can put filters over their selfies or keep up a Snapstreak with their friends, the app has been linked to increased anxiety, lower self-esteem, and exposure to abuse and cybercrime.
The design of Snapchat is not very safe for children. Kids can easily get into contact with strangers and are misled by the promise that their snaps are deleted after being viewed.
We recommend the following safety settings upfront:
- Activate “Ghost Mode.”
- Use “Do Not Disturb.”
- Only allow “My Friends” to see your snaps,
- Disable access to phone number.
- Disable “Quick Add.”
- Use “My Eyes Only.”
If you want to learn more about these settings and how to activate them, check out the article below. We discuss the key question: is Snapchat safe for kids?
Social media is everywhere around us, from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed. With new platforms launching every year, it can be hard to keep track of all of them. However, for many kids and teens, the most popular social media app has remained the same since 2016: Snapchat.
While TikTok and Instagram have been gaining popularity, Snapchat remains the dominant app for at least 35% of US teenagers. To them, Snapchat offers a way to temporarily share their everyday moments through lenses and filters that make everything look better. Parents, however, usually have a different concern: is Snapchat safe for children?
In this article, we take a closer look at how Snapchat works and what the dangers might be for teens and tweens on the app. Additionally, we provide parents with tips on keeping their kids safe online. We also touch on how to optimize Snapchat’s privacy settings.
What is Snapchat?
Essentially, Snapchat is a mobile messaging app, where the main form of communication is photos rather than text.
What’s unique about Snapchat, is that the app lets you share photos for only a couple of seconds. After that, these so-called “snaps” seem to disappear. While it’s misleading to say that these pictures truly vanish (more on this below), it’s certainly a reason for the app’s popularity.
Over the years, Snapchat has added many functionalities in order to compete with other apps. Some notable features include:
- Adding filters and augmented-reality lenses to your photos and videos
- Posting content to your Story, which is visible for 24 hours
- Sharing your live location
- Keeping up a daily chain of sent photos with someone (a Snapstreak)
- Interacting with celebrity accounts and pop-culture brands via “Discover“
Additionally, the app gives each user an individual Snapscore, based on a variety of factors, including how many snaps you send and receive. The equation for this score is unclear, but the score indicates how active and social you are on the app.
Snapchat has been on the market since 2011. As of 2022, the social media app has 319 million users worldwide. In the United Sates alone, there are 107.95 million people on the platform. The app is insanely popular: every second, 8,796 photos are shared. If you wanted to view all the photos that have been sent via the app in the last hour, it would take a total of 10 years.
Over time, Snapchat has built quite a reputation, for better and for worse. The app is a very social and popular platform that allows people to share their lives. However, there are many concerns about the safety of the app, the amount of data it gathers, and the prevalence of sexual content. Since the app is so popular among children, there’s a risk of extortion and abuse that needs to be taken seriously.
The rest of this article will explore this in more detail.
How Does Snapchat Work?
For parents and teachers who are unfamiliar with the app, the many different Snapchat features can be overwhelming. What does it mean if kids are talking about SnapMap or Spotlight? It’s hard to help your children understand the risks involved with Snapchat if you don’t know how the platform works yourself.
To help you out, we explain the different Snapchat features down below.
The main form of communication on Snapchat is through photos. At start-up, the app gets instant access to your camera and you can take a “snap” to send to someone. It’s also possible to record short videos. There are two unique features to Snapchat’s photo-sharing system:
- Set a timer for how long someone is allowed to look at your snap.
- Customize your snaps with filters and augmented reality (AR) tools.
A Snapchat filter will add a layer of color, text, or images to your photo, such as glasses, hats, or text bubbles. Snapchat constantly updates its supply of filters, which means there’s always something new to choose from.
You can also use a Snapchat lens. These lenses use AR technology to alter your photo and essentially transform your face in whatever way you want. Options range from adding aging effects to making yourself look like various animals. Some of these lenses, however, smooth out and “perfect” your facial features, sometimes to the extent that it negatively affects people’s self-esteem.
Once you’ve edited your photo or video, there are several different ways to send out a snap:
- Direct communication: You can send your snap to individual people in your friend list. Only the people you send it to will be able to see it. You can also send your snap to a group chat. All the people in the group will be able to see it.
- Personal Story: This is a chain of snaps you post, which are visible to your friend list over a period of 24 hours. If you’re in a group chat, anyone in that group can add to the collective Group Story. Another option is to send your snap to “Our Story.” This is a public collection that’s curated by Snapchat itself that will make your photo or video visible to anyone.
- SnapMap: This attaches your photo to your geographic location.
If you don’t want a Snap to disappear, you can store it using the Memories feature. If you save anything under My Eyes Only, your snaps are passcode-protected and only visible to you.
Though Snapchat is not a typical social media platform or messaging service, it provides several options for keeping in contact with other Snapchat users. In its most basic form, Snapchat allows you to message and live video chat with others. This can be done one-on-one or via a group chat.
There are different ways your child can add friends on Snapchat:
- Add friends from their contact list: In order to do this, your child has to give Snapchat access to the list of contacts on their device. This means they provide full insight into names, phone numbers, and other information like (email) addresses they have stored about their friends on your phone. If these people don’t have Snapchat yet, it’s possible to send them an invite to download the app.
- Search for a (user)name using the Search function: If your child knows a friend’s Snapchat username, they can simply search for it and add them through there.
- Click a username mentioned in a Story: If someone’s account has been mentioned in a story, your child can add them to their friend list simply by clicking on it.
- Find friend recommendations through Quick Add: This is a feature on the Chat screen that provides a Snapchat user with recommendations based on the people they’re already friends with, who they’re subscribed to, and “other factors,” as Snapchat states on the website. Through this feature, it’s especially easy for kids to get into contact with strangers.
- Scan a Snapcode: If your child meets someone with Snapchat on their phone, they can scan the other person’s code to instantly add them to their friend list.
Setting a timer
As stated before, Snapchat allows you to set a timer for how long people are allowed to watch your snap. Once they’ve viewed your snap, the photo or video supposedly disappears from the screen and is inaccessible. The same goes for private messages: each time you exit the app, the messages self-destruct, unless you specifically choose to save them.
Do photos and messages really disappear? Only to a certain extent. This is because people who receive a snap can always choose to screenshot or screen record it. The app will notify the sender if this happens. However, for those who don’t want to be caught, all it takes is a quick Google search to get a detailed instruction guide on how to screenshot on Snapchat without anyone knowing. Additionally, if you’re willing to pay extra, you can buy replays of snaps through in-app purchases.
Kids, in particular, mistakenly believe that what they send on Snapchat is only temporarily accessible.
If you snap photos back and forth with someone within a 24-hour period, for three days in a row, you’ve started a “Snapstreak.” Especially for kids and teens, Snapstreaks are addictive and validating at the same time. These streaks indicate that kids are popular enough to receive messages on a daily basis. Additionally, Snapstreaks increase a user’s Snapscore, which makes them more relevant on the app. The pressure to keep a streak going can keep your child glued to the app.
The SnapMap displays your child’s location in real-time. This is only visible to friends, but many users, especially teenagers, have Snapchat friends that they don’t actually know. The map also displays events and news from around the world. If kids add to these events, their snaps are public.
To keep users entertained, Snapchat uses many different features, including the Discover feature. The content on Discover comes from brands, influencers, and entertainment companies. In a way, this feature works like Instagram: your child can subscribe to (follow) certain Discover sources and view their content in a type of feed.
Some of these accounts are legit, but most can be categorized as click-bait promotion and advertisement. For children, some of the content in Discover is inappropriate. Additionally, they’re strongly tempted to swipe up on all sorts of ads or partake in marketing “quizzes.”
A second feature that makes the app engaging, especially for children, is the possibility to play single or multiplayer games. These are inspired by popular games like Roblox or Fortnite. Snapchat also offers mini TV shows called Snap Originals. These are specifically produced for the Snapchat app. They’re a mix of reality and scripted television.
Finally, the Spotlight feature is a relatively new addition. It collects people’s content in one giant public feed. Snaps can be selected for Spotlight. If they are really popular, it’s possible to earn money from them. This invites people, including children, to create content that’s public and will attract a lot of views.
In the online Snapstore, kids can make in-app purchases to get merchandise (branded t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats). Additionally, they can purchase tokens that can be spent on a variety of Snapchat games.
In the past, there was a feature called Snapcash, which allowed a user to transfer money to someone else, Venmo-style. Luckily, this feature was removed in 2018.
With so many different features, it’s no wonder that Snapchat is so popular among young users. The question is: how can kids use social media in a way that’s safe and healthy?
Kids and Social Media
According to Common Sense Media, kids are spending large amounts of time online. During the COVID-19 pandemic, screen time for 12- to 18-year-olds across the United States increased to an average of 8 hours and 39 minutes per day. Some kids spend more time online than they spend getting a good night’s rest.
Notably, even younger children (ages 8 to 12) are spending an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes online every day. While gaming can certainly take up time, social media is almost impossible to resist. Despite the fact that you have to be 13 years or older to use most apps, 31% percent of 8- to 12-year-olds in the US have accounts on social media platforms.
The pros and cons of social media
There’s no need to panic right away. While it may sound worrisome, Snapchat and other social media definitely have the potential to be a fun and normal part of your kids’ day. In fact, researchers have identified multiple benefits:
- It creates opportunities for kids to connect with friends and family, especially those who live further away.
- Children can gain a better understanding of the world by being exposed to more diverse media.
- Being on social media teaches and improves kids’ digital literacy skills. They can become more independent in navigating the web.
However, as has also been proven by researchers time and again: excessive use of social media apps can have negative consequences. Social media has been found to increase stress and anxiety, expose young children to cyberbullying, make them vulnerable to cybercriminals and predators, and be detrimental to children’s physical health.
Additionally, not all platforms are equally appropriate for children. While certain tech developers have made it their mission to design kid-friendly platforms, companies such as Instagram and Snapchat are less concerned with the potential risks.
Is Snapchat Safe for Kids?
What exactly are the risks for tweens and teens on Snapchat? Should kids even be on the app? As we go into the specific dangers associated with Snapchat, it’s important to keep a few general things in mind.
Officially, Snapchat users must be 13 years or older. This is done in order to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which rules that companies can’t legally collect any data from users under the age of 13. However, this age restriction doesn’t mean kids can’t get on the app. Since there’s no age verification, children can easily lie about their age and get access.
Much has been written about whether this kind of age legislation actually protects children online. COPPA, in particular, has been criticized for being outdated and irrelevant in the age of smartphones and popular social media apps. Additionally, critics argue that the 13+ marker is arbitrary and doesn’t take children’s cognitive development into account. The fact that a child is over 13 years of age doesn’t mean they suddenly possess a significant sense of responsibility. When it comes to children’s safety online, different measures need to be taken.
Snapchat gathers a lot of data, mainly for advertising purposes. Since the creation of the app, there have been controversies with regard to privacy. Based on vast amounts of information, Snapchat and its associated advertisers can make all sorts of educated guesses about who you are. For children, this is inappropriate and risky, not to mention illegal if they are under the age of 13.
In 2019, it was revealed that Snapchat employees used a software tool called SnapLion to spy on its users. Additionally, the company has had to admit that content shared through the app doesn’t actually vanish. In its official privacy statement, Snapchat states that messages are backed up for a certain period of time and that there are ways to retrieve data that has previously been deleted.
Beyond the myth of deleted content, it’s unclear exactly what Snapchat does with all the data it collects or what the associated risks are. In particular, the platform has been criticized for not being transparent enough about the ramifications of its live location sharing feature. The fact that the SnapMap reveals street addresses can be harmful, especially for minors.
In terms of encryption, only snaps (that is, photos and videos) are end-to-end encrypted. Regular text messages, both private and in-group communication, are not.
Privacy concerns have also been voiced about the lens software Snapchat uses. Theories that Snapchat is creating a facial recognition database are incorrect: for now, the software can recognize a face as a face, but not whom specific features belong to. However, there are other risks tied to the AR software, especially for children, as we’ll discuss below.
General risks of Snapchat
Unfortunately, common risks that are associated with kids and social media also apply to Snapchat. In the final section of this article, we provide advice on how to mitigate these risks. For now, keep in mind that your teen or tween may be exposed to the following things:
- Cyberbullying: According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, 59 percent of teenagers in the United States have experienced bullying or online harassment. The fact that Snapchat “erases” evidence of such situations makes it more difficult for parents and teachers to see what’s going on. You can read more about cyberbullying in our guide for parents.
- Malware and phishing: Kids are easy targets for cybercriminals. Without them being aware of it, kids’ devices can be hit with malicious software. Messaging apps like Snapchat are great platforms for criminals who are out to trick people with phishing scams.
- Graphic content: New research by the 5Rights Foundation has found that kids who create a social media account can be hit with graphic content within as little as 24 hours. Again, the very design of Snapchat easily facilitates this.
- Sexual exploitation: There is increasing evidence that any platform that attracts a lot of children simultaneously attracts those who are looking to take advantage of children. This is the case with social virtual reality apps like Horizon Worlds, but also on Snapchat. During COVID-19, this has only worsened. When users share their location in real-time, this can have very serious consequences.
What Are the Dangers of Snapchat for Kids?
While Snapchat may seem like a consequence-free app with many fun features, there are definitely risks involved. Teenagers might not understand the consequences of sharing certain things on the messaging app. As a parent or teacher, you want to be able to talk to them about the dangers involved. The biggest ones are explained below.
No control over what happens with your snaps
Once your child has sent a snap to someone — whether it’s an innocent picture of their breakfast, or something more risqué, such as a revealing photo — they no longer have control over what happens to it. It might be screenshotted by the person they send it to. It might end up on a Snapchat server for an indefinite amount of time. Someone might even be saving it somewhere with software that can’t be detected.
Kids and teenagers should be cautious about what they send and consider the consequences. This can be quite the challenge, however. It may seem fun to share something sexy, embarrassing, or illegal when they’re under the impression that the evidence will be erased. Even so, you should teach them that they can never be sure.
Social media is designed to be addictive. With features such as the Snapstreak, children are tempted to spend lots of time on the app. This can increase social pressure and cause anxiety. Additionally, the implicit goal of getting a high Snapscore can cause compulsion and excessive use.
Kids and teens are persuaded to post “better” snaps in a variety of ways. The fact that they might earn money when a snap goes viral, could make them eager to post more outrageous content and make this public, as well. Moreover, the photo-editing tools always tempt users to make themselves look prettier, cooler, or more attractive.
This has serious consequences for children’s self-image. Researchers from the Boston Medical Center have found evidence that apps like Snapchat can trigger body dysmorphic disorders. This refers to the way children can become extremely preoccupied with perceived flaws in their own appearance.
Exposure to inappropriate content
As a result of Snapchat’s lack of age verification, younger users can easily be exposed to graphic or inappropriate content that’s not suited for them. While the Discover page has 18+ filters that are supposed to shield children from this, these are evaded by changing your date of birth in your account. Especially young children can be negatively influenced by this.
Contact with strangers
One of the biggest risks for kids on Snapchat is how easy it is to get in touch with strangers. The Quick Add feature, especially, puts strangers directly on your kids’ path. The need for validation that’s present in teenagers and amplified by social media also makes them eager to add many people, rather than just people they know in real life.
As a result, Snapchat has been a gateway for sexual abuse and revenge porn. In 2020, a Virginia-based man was sentenced to 50 years in prison for sexually exploiting children via Snapchat. That same year, multiple girls at a school in San Miguel County, New Mexico, were sexually victimized on Snapchat by their high school coach. Unfortunately, there are many more cases.
Additionally, many pornographic websites gather and distribute content from Snapchat that would fall under revenge porn.
The SnapMap feature can put people, especially kids and teenagers, in physical danger. The information that’s shared with other users, is often detailed and provides people with real-time information about a child’s whereabouts.
Parents should take care to discuss these risks with their kids and, where possible, change the privacy settings on their children’s accounts to keep them safe.
How to Keep Kids Safe on Snapchat
For parents, the biggest challenge while keeping children safe on a platform like Snapchat is that they can’t fully see what’s happening. Of course, you could create your own account and add your child as a friend. However, this would only allow you to see their Story and what they decide to share with you.
In this case, it might seem logical to install parental control software. There are several programs that allow you to intercept what your children are doing in the app. However, parental controls should be used with caution. Such measures can easily backfire, since children do not like being spied on, no matter the justification.
Therefore, it’s important to practice more general safety when it comes to Snapchat. Here are some tips and tricks:
- Talk to your children about Snapchat. While it might sound obvious, this is the first step in protecting your children online. Explain to your kids what you know about the platform, including the fact that snaps are not as temporary as they might think. Discuss the risks of social media, including bullying, phishing, and abuse. Make them feel like they can come to you when anything uncomfortable happens.
- Change the settings together. Go through the app and highlight why it’s important to keep some information away from people, especially strangers. If your kids understand the settings, they can better understand the consequences of their behavior in the app. You can find some specific settings to pay attention to in the next section.
- Emphasize the positive elements. The last thing you want to do is alienate your children from social media altogether. Rather, you’ll want to teach them transparency and safety. Ask them to show you some fun features or to talk about the influencers they follow. This will re-enforce the positive aspects of social media and allow them some digital independence.
- Set boundaries. To reinstate some control, you can set boundaries with regard to screen time, especially for younger children. Additionally, you can talk about what sort of content is okay to post on Snapchat and how kids can protect the privacy of their friends or siblings, too.
How to Change Snapchat’s Safety Settings
While it makes sense that parents worry about Snapchat’s safety, there are several steps you can take yourself to make the app safer, even for young users.
Recommended safety settings
Snapchat is not a very suitable app for anyone under the age of 13. Considering the severity of the risks, we personally recommend Snapchat for older teenagers (16-18). Even if your child is younger than that, however, you can make Snapchat safer for them. We suggest making the following changes to their settings:
|Recommended settings||What it does||How to activate it|
|Ghost Mode||Make your child’s location invisible on the SnapMap.||1. Click on the cog in the right-top corner to go to “Settings.”|
2. Go to “Privacy.”
3. Click “My Location.”
3. Toggle on “Ghost Mode.”
|Manage Contacts||Limit your child’s contact with strangers by only allowing friends to see their snaps.||1. Click on the cog in the right-top corner to go to “Settings.”|
2. Go to “Privacy.”
3. Change “Contact Me” to “My Friends.”
4. Change “View My Story” to “My Friends.”
|Disable Quick Add||Prevent your child’s profile from showing up in other people’s Quick Add feature.||1. Click on the cog in the right-top corner to go to “Settings.”|
2. Go to “Privacy.”
3. Click on “Quick Add” and toggle it off.
|Disable Access to Phone Number||Stop people from adding your child to their friend list through their phone number.||1. Click on the cog in the right-top corner to go to “Settings.”|
2. Go to “My Account.”
3. Tap “Mobile Number.”
4. Toggle off “Let others find me using my mobile number.”
|My Eyes Only||Make your saved snaps in Memories passcode-protected.||1. Swipe up on your in-app camera to see your “Memories.”|
2. Go to “My Eyes Only.”
3. Set up a passcode.
4. You can now add any of your Memories to this folder.
For more detailed advice on Snapchat’s settings, check out our article on how to improve your privacy on Snapchat.
Snapchat: Fun, But Risky
Snapchat is one of the most popular apps in the world, especially for kids and teens. The social platform lets young users share enhanced photos and videos with others for a short amount of time, after which they are deleted.
However, taking a closer look at Snapchat reveals that it’s riskier than it appears. There are various ways to save snaps without the person who posted them knowing. Additionally, the app can increase kids’ anxiety and need for validation. The use of Snapchat filters has been linked to lower self-esteem and even body dysmorphia. Finally, Snapchat seems to have little to no care for privacy issues and doesn’t seem able to make the platform safe enough for children.
If you have a child with a Snapchat account, we recommend you make them aware of the risks, change the app’s settings, and set boundaries for app use. If you want to read more about kids’ safety online, check out what the experts have to say.
Are you worried about your child using Snapchat? Would you like to know more about the dangers of the app? Check out the FAQ below to get some quick answers.
Snapchat is not a very safe app for children. While it can certainly be fun for your 12-year-old to share photos with friends, Snapchat can cause increased anxiety and low self-esteem. Additionally, your child may be persuaded to share things they don’t want to by people they don’t know in real life.
Therefore, it’s important that you optimize the privacy settings and talk to them about the risks involved with Snapchat. We recommend Snapchat for older teens (16-18) instead.
There are various reasons why Snapchat is not safe for kids:
- The AR filters have been scientifically linked to increased body image issues and low self-esteem.
- Snapchat can show children graphic content that’s not suited for their age.
- It’s very easy to get into contact with strangers.
- There are many cybercriminals and predators on Snapchat.
- If you don’t optimize your privacy settings, your personal information is made very public.
No, it’s not possible to monitor Snapchat, because there are no parental controls on the app. You can create your own account and become friends with your child. However, this will only let you see their Story and whatever else they are willing to share with you.
Read our full article on Snapchat for kids for tips on how to make the app safer for your child.
Snapchat is a very public app that comes with many dangers:
- It doesn’t have the best privacy protection. Unless you review the settings, a lot of personal information is publicly visible, including your location.
- It is misleading. The illusion exists that snaps are deleted after they’re viewed, but there are various ways they can be recovered. This opens up pathways for abuse and extortion.
- It has negative effects on users’ self-image, most notable in younger users.