Snapchat: Should Parents Worry?

Snapchat: Should Parents Worry?

'Kids bullied via Snapchat,' and 'Snapchat turns your phone into a sex toy' scream the headlines and I want to instantly ban my daughters from laying their hands on it ever again.

Yet they insist they are savvy enough to come to no harm.

Originally designed for adults, Snapchat is a smartphone app which is gaining popularity among teens and tweens. It allows users to text picture messages to their friends, only for the image to vanish seven to 10 seconds after it's opened.

For children innocently using Snapchat the fun part is that the images disappear. My girls send pictures of themselves messing about or show what outfit they are planning for a party. There's a steady ping from their Blackberry handsets each time their friends send a similar image back.

As an exclusive Parentdish and BeatBullying poll shows that some 24 per cent of eight-year-olds had used Snapchat, concerns are growing about online safety for its army of young users. Perhaps encouragingly the research also illustrates that the older they get, the less inclined young people are to log into this particular social media phenomenon, with just 14 per cent of 16-year-olds having tried it.

But whether or not Snapchat is a passing fad, basic worries remain about how it is used.

Sexually explicit images are sent every second by grown-ups on Snapchat. Sadly, this is also now becoming an all-too common occurrence among younger users too. Previously published American research says that as many as 15 per cent of children aged 12 to 17 say they have received a 'sext' from someone they know while four per cent admit they too have sent such images themselves.

I find it heartbreaking to think of girls as young as my daughters, aged just 14, capturing such images.

"Some people use it for dirty pictures," my daughter Emily tells me, shrugging her shoulders, like it's nothing out of the ordinary.

It doesn't take a genius to understand what this can lead to. Put this app in the hands of a bully, online troll or simply someone who wants to make mischief and the consequences could be devastating. There have been reports of Snapchat users 'sneaking around' to snatch embarrassing photos to share with their friends and warnings that any pictures, however quickly they disappear, can be permanently recorded through clever use of screenshots. In some cases, this is done without the original sender of the picture finding out.

Last month a teenage victim of Snapchat bullies spoke out about her ordeal, revealing it sent her to the brink of suicide as she swallowed pills in a bid to escape the hurt caused by cruel messages. As those messages had disappeared, she also faced a battle to be believed.

So, what as a concerned mum, can I do to ensure my girls aren't sucked into a seedy or dangerous world that this social media platform evidently can and does lead to?

Common sense behaviour is needed.

My daughters know not to share information or 'hook up' online or via their phones with anyone they don't know in real life. We've spoken so much in general about self-esteem and confidence and discussed the dangers of how Snapchat can backfire.

But it's not just Snapchat that throws up such issues.

Like so many of their friends, my daughters are also now avid fans of Instagram and Vine.

Vine is owned by Twitter and it's an app which allows you to record six seconds of video to then share with friends. Instagram is a more established way of giving photos an attractive filtered light effect. They look lovely.

Crucially, neither Vine nor Instagram include an element that means the images will disappear – this puts my mind at rest to a large degree.

Yet all of these systems throw up questions about followers, anonymity and who can actually see your pictures.

For me, I must admit that a straightforward Snapchat ban is looking more attractive by the second. I'm quietly hoping that it will go the way of its ghoulish logo and die out completely.