What Parents Should Know: Is Snapchat Safe for Kids?
**This blog post was updated on September 13, 2023. **
Note: This post contains images that some viewers may find offensive.
Is Snapchat safe for kids? What is Snapchat used for? Kids on Snapchat flock to the app to keep up with friends, create content, and see what’s new with the celebrities and brands they follow. But is Snapchat safe for kids? It’s well known that social media platforms like Snapchat can expose kids to inappropriate content and potential dangers. Apps like these are always changing, too, and just when you think you know how it all works, the latest update can make your knowledge obsolete overnight. In this post, we take a look at some of the latest updates to — as well as the dark corners of — Snapchat that parents need to know about.
What Is Snapchat?
Snapchat is a photo-sharing and messaging app that’s been around since 2011. It’s most widely known as the app that launched the “disappearing message” craze that’s still popular to this day. As of July 2021, Snapchat has 293 million daily users, which indicates that it’s showing no signs of slowing as one of the most common social media platforms out there, especially for young people. With such a large user base, parents might ask themselves: “Is Snapchat safe for kids?”
What Is Snapchat Used For?
Before we can address the question “is Snapchat safe for kids?” we first need to answer what Snapchat is used for. Snapchat prides itself as being a spur-of-the-moment messaging platform — a stark contrast to the more formal “tagged photo” culture of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Messages sent to recipients disappear shortly after opening, though screenshots can still be taken. Because of the fleeting nature of these photos, Snapchat is considered the go-to app for sending nudes among young people.
Is Snapchat Safe For Kids?
One of the biggest draws of Snapchat is that messages disappear after a certain amount of time — individual Snaps disappear immediately after viewing and Stories disappear after 24 hours. This can give users a feeling of freedom. The idea that the posts they create aren’t permanent, or that they can get away with posting hurtful or sexual content without consequence, is a feature that is commonly abused. But a quick screenshot or recording means that just like anywhere else on the internet, what you post can come back to haunt you. Keeping this in mind, is Snapchat safe for kids? Many parents don’t think so.
Snapchat has a host of features that not only can expose kids to objectionable content but also possibly jeopardize their privacy and safety. Fortunately, Bark monitors Snapchat direct messages (Chats) on Android devices.
What Is Family Center?
Family Center is Snapchat's internal parental control system. When you create an account for yourself, you can link it to your child's account so you can:
- See who your child has sent Snaps or chats to in the past week
- Limit sensitive content in Stories and Spotlight
- View all their friends
There are two huge issues with Family Center, however: Your kid has to accept your supervision (and can also unilaterally turn it off at anytime) and you can't see of the actual content or photos your kid sees.
How to Set Up Family Center
- Download Snapchat on your phone and create an account.
- Once you're set up, tap your profile icon in the top left corner of the home screen.
- Then, tap the settings/gear icon in the top right corner.
- Scroll down until you see Privacy Controls, and tap Family Center.
- Send an invite to your kid.
- Wait for your kid to accept the invite.
- Once they do, when you tap Family Center, you'll be able to see their friends, view who they've chatted with, and restrict sensitive content, if you want.
Snapchat in September 2023 announced even more safeguards for its teen users. These features include in-app warnings about chatting with strangers, stronger protections for adding unknown friends, and in-app safety tips.
The Discover Feature Is Full of Inappropriate Content
What is Snapchat used for that you might not know about? Snapchat has a Discover section that offers a gallery of content that users can interact with. These range from brand advertisements and online publications to posts from some of Snapchat’s more popular users. And like so much of the rest of the internet, the content in the Discover section relies on clicks to keep it at the top. This means the content that makes it here tends to be attention-grabbing. It’s basically the click-bait of Snapchat. It’s easy to guess what topic always gets a lot of clicks: Sex. The Discover section is full of it. Is Snapchat safe for kids? So far, the evidence suggests an emphatic “NO!”. But there are ways to make it better.
We’ve included a few milder screen grabs here, but some of the content is too sexual in nature to host on our website. At the same time, we think it’s important for parents to be aware of what their children have access to, so if you click on this link, you’ll get an idea of the content Snapchat is serving its users.
How to Reduce Exposure to Sexual Content
Much like other social media platforms, Snapchat has algorithms that serve content based on demographics, in-app activity, and out-of-app activity. (If you’ve ever Googled a vacuum cleaner and now your Facebook is inundated with vacuum cleaner ads, you know how this works). Snapchat does age-gate content, however. When a new user inputs their birthdate, Snapchat will show them content based on their age. So if your 13-year-old puts in their proper birthdate, Snapchat has stated that their algorithms will not expose them to age-inappropriate content.
Parents should be advised that this is a limited solution — changing your age on Snapchat only takes a tap of a button. Still, checking your child’s birthdate on a Snapchat account is a solid way to help mitigate the amount of adult content they might inadvertently see. You can even make the “keep your birthday accurate” part of your tech contract with your child. Even with these precautions in place, is Snapchat safe for kids? The answer depends on what is Snapchat used for when your kids use the platform.
The “My Eyes Only” Feature Acts as a Locked Photo Vault
Even though Snapchat is known as the disappearing messages platform, users can save Snaps they’ve taken themselves by downloading them. They’re then easily accessed when you swipe up from the camera screen and open up Memories. This same screen is also the home of a feature called “My Eyes Only,” which lets users password protect saved photos they want to keep extra private.
To access “My Eyes Only” photos, you’ll need to know the 4-digit PIN. While on the surface this seems like it could just be additional privacy for picture storage, it could be used as a vault for potentially inappropriate photos. The photos that can be stored don’t even have to originate on Snapchat — they can be downloads, screenshots, or photos from other people, all uploaded directly from the camera roll.
Snap Map Shows User Locations
Snapchat has a feature called Snap Map that lets people see where their friends are located while they compose their Snaps. Users have decent control over how their location is shared through this feature of the app, but things can take a turn if they’re posting to Our Story.
Our Story is a feature that allows users to contribute to a public feed that shows in near real-time events happening across the world. It allows users to communicate directly within the map if they happen to be close to each other. Users don’t have to know each other to communicate — anyone can talk to anyone here.
So if kids on Snapchat give out personal information and sends it to “Our Story,” it can be seen by the entire community and then possibly put on the World Snap Map with whatever personal information they shared. For this reason, it’s important to adjust your children’s location-sharing settings to align with your family's values.
So, is Snapchat safe? It is ultimately at your discretion as a parent to determine whether to allow your children to use the app. While taking appropriate measures to safeguard privacy and online safety can make Snapchat a safer platform, it's important to note that some concerns persist.
Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.