Online Safety for Kids – The App Your Kids are Using Now: Snapchat

The #1 question asked by parents when I present for McAfee’s Online Safety for Kids program, is “Where do I go to find out information about what my kids are doing online?” It’s no secret that kids (especially teenagers) can be less than forthcoming about their online behavior. That’s where I come in. I have two tween/teen sisters, and since I’m not the mom, I am privy to their online behavior. Given my background in tech and my front row view to real world, right now tween/teen behavior, I have a lot to say when it comes to keeping kids safe online, and I am incredibly excited to share it with you.

The online world, while amazing, is a scary place. Recently I was presenting at a local school where a third grade girl raised her hand and told the crowd of 300+ that she had been solicited and cyber bullied by an older man while playing computer games on a popular website. Stories similar to this are shared by children and their parents in every presentation. This is the rule, not the exception. With their ‘that will never happen to me’ mentality, kids are opening themselves up to a world of possibilities, many of them dangerous.

Digital media that is shared can move quickly from device to device, and images and information go viral within a matter of seconds. Viral means national news, thousands of Facebook shares, millions of YouTube hits. Viral means you don’t get hired by your dream company because they saw what you posted on the internet. Viral means haunting you – very possibly for the rest of your life.

This leads me to Snapchat.

Snapchat is an application for your smartphone, and is advertised as ‘the fastest way to share a moment’ which means it is a way to share photos (with video capability recently added). The Snapchat website boasts the ability to control how long you want your friends to have access to the shared message. This application is popular with users between the ages of 13 and 25, and as of today, over a billion photos have been shared.

Why is it popular? Snapchat touts the ability to delete images at any time – users LOVE this notion. This advertised feature reduces social inhibitions of messaging. For this reason, it’s widely used for sexting.

Why is it dangerous? While Snapchat advertises share media cannot be saved, it is absolutely possible to save pictures on Snapchat…in fact; I saved a picture this morning. Since you can save the digital media (and potentially share with whomever you like, who can then share with whomever they like, and so on and so forth…), Snapchat becomes a functionless application… users may as well share images using their smartphone’s built in camera. They do the same thing.

My recommendation – have your kids delete Snapchat. If the fact that messages can be saved isn’t enough to convince you, think about this: messages sent over Snapchat do not appear on your phone bill, meaning you have no visibility into who your child is sharing information with.

Note: Snapchat is not intended for use by children under the age of 13. If your child is under the age of 13, Snapchat recommends you delete their account.

What steps do you take to keep your kids safe online? Comment below!

For more information about keeping your kids safe online, follow me on Twitter @tctompkins

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