A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this app.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Snapchat is a popular messaging app that allows teens to exchange user-generated photos, texts, videos, and calls -- both audio and video. The developer claims that "Snaps" can't be saved within the app and are viewable only for one to 10 seconds before disappearing from the recipient's device, noting that the app notifies the sender if the recipient takes a screenshot of an image. However, several third-party programs easily intercept and store any Snaps sent to the user, and users can buy replays of Snaps via in-app purchase, negating the "temporary" aspect of the service. Also, as of 2017, users can play Snaps as long as they'd like until they exit that Snap, which deletes it as usual. You can delete text messages sent through the app and Snaps, if they're unopened and used a saved picture (rather than one taken on the spot).
If users opt to share their location, they can see friends on a "Snap Map" and see Snapchat Stories from other users in various locations, and if they do opt in, they can use "Ghost mode" to see others but not be visible themselves. In terms of location, friends can also send their location and request a friend's location, which will update live for eight hours unless turned off. There's an option to share public stories on other social media platforms, and premium publishers can access and use publicly posted stories. The "Sounds" feature lets users set Snaps to music, TikTok style. If users swipe up and tape "Play This Song," they can tap and listen to the full song. In the Memories section, teens can save posts behind a passcode so that no one else can access them. The app has gained a reputation as a sexting app because outgoing (and incoming) pictures, videos, and texts are not stored on devices, but many teens use it simply to exchange fun, silly pictures. In addition, a video feature called Discover has curated content from outlets including CNN, Cosmopolitan, Warner Music, and Vice. The Discover content (which disappears after 24 hours, a much longer window than for other content) often features harsh language, sexual content, violence, advertisements, or videos with, for instance, a character flipping viewers "the bird," and there is no option to opt out. Third-party "mini-apps" are available in the chat field, mostly enabling easier purchases, but also offering content from platforms like Headspace for meditation.
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What's it about?
SNAPCHAT is a photo-messaging app that allows users to put a time limit on a sent picture, text, or video so that the recipient can see it for only a few seconds before it disappears, though replays are available for purchase via in-app transactions. Users can add friends from their device's address book and Facebook friends list, or they can enter specific usernames. To send a picture, users take a snapshot using the in-app camera, set a time limit, select recipients, and send. By tapping and holding their own image in the selfie cam, teens enable facial-recognition software that allows them to add animated effects to their selfies. Videos are captured by continuously pressing the on-screen shutter, and texts are typed. Users have a Snapchat mailbox where they can see a list of sent and received messages. In addition, users can live-chat with others if they're online at the same time and know each other's username. Also, users can call each other using video or just audio and can include short video "notes" in chat. In addition to individual chats, users can create groups with up to 16 people. If users trade Snaps within 24 hours over a period of days, they are in a "Snapstreak." The Discover area of the app has daily content from 12 outlets, which changes every day. Viewers get a short video preview and can swipe down to watch or read more, swipe right to see the next story (each outlet files 10 per day), or swipe up to exit that provider's options. You also can contribute to Our Story; if your Snap is chosen, it might be included in a curated collection available to all users. For hands-free snapping, users can buy "Specs," which are glasses that record videos. Once recorded, the videos can be sent to a phone and then posted to Snapchat.
Is it any good?
Though it might have (at one time) sounded like a great way to control images, videos, and texts shared with friends, trusting the app with that information is not a wise bet. As soon as the app became a hit among users, third-party apps popped up to destroy the illusion of a fleeting thought that disappears once viewed. As with any media-sharing tool, users should be cautious and thoughtful about which images they send with Snapchat. The seemingly risk-free messaging might encourage users to share pictures containing sexual, violent, or illegal content. Also, kids might feel pressure or anxiety around keeping a Snapstreak going, which keeps them tied to their phones.
Users can receive updates in Snapchat from anyone who knows their username, so teens using Snapchat will need to be careful not to share their username in public forums. Users also can chat with anyone who knows their username in real time, if the two are using the app at the same time. The recently added Discover feature keeps avid users up to date on current news and pop culture events, but it features some inappropriate videos and language, as well as advertising hidden in the form of updates. View our video The Truth About Sexting for more ways to talk to your teen about safe messaging practices.
Talk to your kids about ...
- Devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android
- Subjects: Arts: photography
- Skills: Communication: multiple forms of expression
Tech Skills: digital creation, social media
- Price: Free
- Pricing structure: Free
- Release date: September 26, 2011
- Category: Photo & Video
- Size: 2.70 MB
- Publisher: Snap, Inc.
- Version: 3.0.0
- Minimum software requirements: iOS 4.0 or later; Android 2.2 and up
- Last updated: April 9, 2021
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.