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Snapchat is a free messaging app that allows users to exchange pictures and videos called ‘snaps’. The idea is that these images can appear temporarily before disappearing, though they can be captured via screenshots. Snapchat allows users to edit their pictures and videos through the use of filters, lenses, emojis, text or other effects, which they can then share with friends. Users can choose how long their snaps stay on the app, from one second to no time limit. Recipients of the snaps can also have the ability to replay a snap they receive. Snapchat is one of the most popular social media platforms globally, especially with young people, and has 332 million daily active users worldwide.
Official age rating
The minimum age restriction for Snapchat users is 13 however, Snapchat does not have any rigorous age verification methods.
All accounts default to a ‘Friends’ setting, where content can only be viewed by friends you’ve added on the platform. It is worth checking that your child’s account settings reflect this.
Find out more about age ratings in our ‘A parent and carer’s guide to age ratings of apps and games’.
How children and young people use the app
Snapchat is an extremely popular app for children and young people. The different ways users can edit pictures and the key feature of making messages temporary give the app a fun and playful feel. Users can choose to put a time limit of between 1-10 seconds on the ‘Snaps’ they send directly to their contacts or in group chats . Each snap shared with your followers as a ‘Story’ is also temporary and is available for 24 hours, unless you delete it before then. The app also has a multitude of other features including bitmojis, games, subscriptions and a discovery page with various types of news and curated content to scroll through. A big incentive for the continuous use of the app is the ‘Snapstreak’ feature where a number is presented next to a user’s name to signify the number of days in a row that they have been messaging. This is sometimes seen as a reflection of their friendship and if the users forget to message for a day, the number goes back down to zero which can be upsetting to some users and provides further incentive to use the app daily.
Key features and terminology
A ‘Snap’ is a picture or video you send through the app to one or more of your friends. Users have the option to add a time limit of 1 to 10 seconds on images they share, and a video snap can last up to 60 seconds in a series of six, 10 seconds clips. Once the snap has been viewed by its recipient it is deleted unless you add it to your ‘Story’, in which case they disappear after 24 hours.
A ‘Story’ is a collection of snaps that play in the order they were taken. You and your friends' stories are displayed to show the last 24 hours, so you can view the series of messages you sent between each other. There is an option to make ‘Private stories’ where users can choose who sees them.
This feature is a newsfeed featuring content from news outlets.
This is Snapchat’s gaming feature where you can game with friends and chat with them through the app.
This shows an extended session of snaps between friends for three consecutive days. The app will show the number of days the streak has been going for.
This is a list compiled of the users you most frequently contact within the app.
This refers to a chat function where users can text each other without having to take a snap.
A Snapchat filter or special effect that you add to picture or snaps. There are also Snapchat lenses that allow you to add animations and special effects while you are taking a snap.
Snap Map allows users to share their location in real time and is enabled by default.
This is an additional feature which can be added to Snap Maps, which allows users to get directions to their friend’s exact location by sharing live location details. The map will then display the route and information on how long it will take to reach them.
Users can use ‘Ghost mode’ to avoid sharing their own location with others, as it removes all live location features from the app.
A tool to promote viral videos from public profiles.
Users can call or video call their friends using Snapchat.
Users can create and personalise their own avatar which can be used on their profile and Snapmaps.
Users can save snaps that they take to their memories.
This is where users can save snaps and memories privately, needing a pin or password to access them.
This is a subscription service that allows users to access exclusive in-app features such as custom app icons and data insights.
As with other apps that encourage users to share their personal stories and pictures, a lot of unmoderated content is shared on Snapchat. Due to the ways that the algorithms work on platforms like Snapchat, videos will be shared because they are popular and have high engagement rather than because they are necessarily safe or appropriate for your child. It is also possible your child may stumble across inappropriate content in the form of bad language or mature content in their messages. By restricting who your child can access on the platform, your child is less likely to experience language or behaviour that is not suitable for their age. However, it should be acknowledged that your child may still be exposed to inappropriate content by their known contacts.
The disappearing text also presents a risk, as users could feel disinhibited and inclined to share content which they assume cannot be viewed again. This could apply to a range of situations, including the sharing of nude images, racist or hateful comments or engaging in bullying and harassment. Users should be reminded that any content they share on the platform can be easily captured in a screen shot and shared, so encourage your child to think carefully about the content they choose to share.
Connecting with others
Snapchat is a highly social app encouraging interaction and engagement that is lively and fun. There have been cases of children and young people being contacted, solicited and harassed through this app. This app is likely targeted because it is so widely popular with children and young people but also because the disappearing messages feature may be attractive to those who are seeking to harm children. It is important that children and young people know how to limit their contacts in settings to those who are known friends. Speak to your child about the risks of connecting with strangers and explain the importance of not sharing any personal or identifiable information on their profile or within chats. Encourage them to tell you if they have been asked more personal questions or to chat privately using a different app. Changing the privacy settings to sharing only with friends is recommended.
Whilst it is recommended that your child only interacts with people they know on the platform, they also need to be aware of some of the new features within the app that could put them at further risk. The recent introduction of the ‘Meet up’ feature on Snapchat means a user can get directions to a friend’s exact location via the ‘Snap map’. Like other map apps, this feature then shows the route and how long it will take to reach them. Whilst the intention behind the feature is to make it easy for offline family and friends to find each other and meet up, it is possible that the feature can be misused by others on the platform. Ensure your child is only connecting with known friends on Snapchat and remind them that they should only ever share their location details with people they know and trust. Talk to your child about the risks of sharing their location with people they do not know and encourage them to talk to you if they have been asked to share their location or have experienced unwanted visits from people on the platform.
In common with other popular social apps, Snapchat has a range of features which allow users to share content in a range of ways. Have a conversation with your child to help them understand what is and is not appropriate for them to share online and the lasting impact that anything they post may have on themselves and their future. The ‘My eyes only’ and ‘Disappearing message’ feature that Snapchat is known for can also give children a false sense of security about sharing. It is important to explain to children that all content can be screenshotted, saved and widely shared. If a ‘Story’ or a ‘Snap’ is screenshotted, the user who made or sent the post is alerted but this does not prevent the other user from being able to save the image. Users must therefore really think about the content they share and consider whether they would be happy for everyone they know to see it.
Design, data and costs
As with many other apps, Snapchat collects significant data from children and does serve adverts and influencer content. It can be compulsive for children, particularly concerning the ‘popularity contest’ feature of the app known as ‘Snapstreaks’. This feature allows children to share and demonstrate the strengths of their friendships with each other based on how often they communicate via the app. It is important to talk to children about real friendships and how ‘Snapstreaks’ are simply designed to keep users on the platform, rather than to gauge the quality of a friendship.
Whilst Snapchat is a free app, Snapchat users are invited to subscribe to Snapchat+. For a fixed monthly amount, users can access additional features such as being able to pin best friends and see users who have rewatched your story. This may be very compelling for keen Snapchat users who want to experience the additional features. Remind younger users that Snapchat subscriptions are just another way to try and keep users on the platform and make money.
Tips for keeping your child safe
Whilst there isn’t a simple public or private option within Snapchat, users can still use the settings to determine who can view any content they share.
To manage who can contact you:
- Go to your profile and then choose the settings menu and scroll down to ‘Privacy Controls’.
- Select ‘Contact me’ from the options given and choose ‘My friends’.
- Select ‘View my story’ and choose ‘Friends only’.
Users can navigate through the settings menu to help manage who can contact them and the information they choose to share with others. Live location is shared by default, so disabling this feature is recommended.
To manage ‘Quick add’:
- Go to your profile and choose the settings menu.
- Scroll down to ‘Privacy Controls’ and select ‘See me in quick add’.
- Toggle this option off. This will prevent your profile from being suggested as a possible friend to others on the platform.
To disable location sharing:
- Go to your profile and choose the settings menu.
- Scroll down to ‘Privacy Controls’.
- Select ‘See my location’ from the options given and choose ‘Only me’.
- Note: when ‘Ghost mode’ is enabled, your friends can’t see your location.
To turn on ‘Ghost mode’:
- Within ‘Snap maps’ select the settings icon.
- Toggle on ‘Ghost mode’ and select how long you want to remain in this mode from:
- 3 hours
- 24 hours
- Until turned off
Users can report and block other users who may be bothering them or behaving inappropriately on the platform.
To report a user:
- Select the user you wish to report from the ‘Chat’ list.
- Tap and hold down their name and select the ‘Manage friendship’ option.
- Tap ‘Report’ and choose your reason from the listed options.
To block a user:
- Go to your profile and choose ‘My friends’.
- Tap and hold down their name and click on the ‘Manage Friendship’ option.
- Click ‘block’.
To ‘remove friend’:
- Select the user you wish to remove from the ‘chat’ list.
- Tap and hold their name and select ‘manage friendship’.
- Select ‘remove friend’.
There are lots of prompts and invitations on Snapchat, including friend suggestions and prompts about unopened snaps or mentions. You can manage the notifications in the settings menu.
To manage notifications:
- Go to your profile and choose the settings menu.
- Scroll down and select ‘Notifications’ and choose which features you would like to be notified about.
- Note: there is an extensive list of notifications available so work with your child to choose the notification settings that are suitable for them.
Snapchat offers a ‘Here for you’ service which provides in-app support to users who may be experiencing mental health issues. This can be found in the ‘Support’ section within the settings menu.