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Snapchat: What parents need to know

Does your tween or teen use the Snapchat app? This hugely popular mobile app has taken over where Instagram left off — but with a twist that might take parents by surprise. Find out who’s using it and why you may want to think twice about letting your child download it.

Teen using Snapchat

With all the media attention and concern surrounding sexting, most parents of teens have had a frank discussion about internet privacy, especially regarding photo sharing on Instagram. But what parents may not know is that many teens have moved over to Snapchat for their raunchy photo-sharing — and here’s why.

Snapchat has taken off

Now processing over 30 million messages a day, Snapchat has taken off like crazy. Snapchat is like Instagram in that it makes sharing images easy, but on Snapchat the images or video only remain visible for a brief moment before they are gone permanently. Users take a picture or short video clip, then choose how long it will be visible to the person they send it to — for anywhere from one to 10 seconds. Teens like the implied privacy of Snapchat, which has gained a reputation as the place to share racy images that will not come back to haunt you. Or will they? That’s where the problem comes in.

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When there’s a will

There is nothing preventing someone from grabbing a screen shot of your teen’s photos before they vanish from the screen. Although Snapchat does send a message when a photo has been grabbed, hackers have quickly come up with a work-around for that, too. Facebook has also launched a similar mobile app in conjunction with their “poke” feature, which also alerts you if your shared image is grabbed. Teens need to understand that even with this new technology, any inappropriate images they take or share can still make it out into cyberspace for all to see.

Sexting scandal at New Jersey high school

In a letter to parents of both middle school and high school students in Ridgewood, New Jersey, the superintendent of schools told parents that some Ridgewood high school girls had sent lewd images via Snapchat. These photos were intercepted by a male student, who took screen shots and uploaded them to an Instagram gallery. Students in the district were given an amnesty period by police, in which they could delete any images they had taken or shared, without penalty.

Superintendent Daniel Fishbein explained in the letter the seriousness of crimes related to sharing or taking illicit photos. “These incidents happened off school grounds and are being handled by the police,” Fishbein said in an interview. “If it is determined that students broke school rules then we would handle that administratively as we do with all student issues.”

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Snapchat’s philosophy

What was the intention of Snapchat in the first place? According to co-founder Evan Spiegel, “I’m not convinced that the whole sexting thing is as big as the media makes it out to be. I just don’t know people who do that. It doesn’t seem that fun when you can have real sex,” he adds. He did say that the idea for the app — which he created with Bobby Murphy — was partially inspired by racy images shared on Twitter by disgraced former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner.

On their company blog, Snapchat shares a vision of how they see their app being used in daily life.

We believe in sharing authentic moments with friends. It’s not all about fancy vacations, sushi dinners or beautiful sunsets. Sometimes it’s an inside joke, a silly face or greetings from a pet fish.

Sharing those moments should be fun. Communication is more entertaining when it’s with the people who know us best. And we know that no one is better at making us laugh than our friends.

There is value in the ephemeral. Great conversations are magical. That’s because they are shared, enjoyed but not saved.”

Bottom line

Teens need to be told — and reminded on occasion — that any images they send to anyone, regardless of the medium, can be shared with others and wind up in cyberspace. To protect their privacy, teen should never send any picture to anyone that they wouldn’t willingly show a parent.

More internet safety

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