If you are one of those parents who quietly think you are a pretty in touch with technology, and keeping up with your teenagers and their world; not that you boast out loud, but just deep down in your own little private confidence compartment think you are a pretty cool parent, I have a question for you;
Are you on, or do you use:
a) Facebook / Twitter
c) Both of the above
c) None of the above
If you answered D then I am assuming you don’t deep down feel cool and hip in terms of latest technology. If you do I’m interested in your assessment.
If you answered A (Facebook) I have some disappointing news. You are keeping up with everyone 25 years and older, who now dominate Facebook, but you are not keeping up with your teenagers. If you are on Instagram as well you are pretty cool, but shouldn’t rest too long on your tech laurels.
If you answered B or C then I think you have some right to feel like you are one of the more cutting edge, digitally groovy parents going around.
You might have missed it, but the digital revolution is not slowing down and social media is continuing to evolve with it. The latest incarnation of digital networking and communication products are not platform based they are message based. The world is moving from status updates and tweets, to snaps and chats. The evolution is from laptop to mobile, from curated to instant, from timeline history to moments, and from public to intimate.
For those of you who missed the first social media explosion, this post is going to make the digital generation gap feel like an incomprehensible chasm, but I encourage you to stick with it if you have teenage kids.
The next big thing is not social networks, but messaging apps. Products like, WhatsAp, Kik, YikYak, and Snapchat are at the forefront of the evolution of social digital communication and connecting.
With teenagers the fastest growing is Snapchat, which I believe will become the dominant social app of preference for the current generation of teenagers. I suspect it will follow a similar trajectory to Facebook and move beyond just the under 13 – 25 demographic and become a mainstream app of choice for adults and their businesses over the coming years.
In this post I want to introduce Snapchat to those of you who haven’t yet met it, outline why it is so popular with today’s teens, and give you a heads up about what parents need to know and be aware of.
What is Snapchat
Snapchat is photo- and video-messaging app. It allows users to quickly share photos and videos straight from their phone with a discreet group of friends. These images can sent as they are, with captions, or customised with various editing and drawing tools available.
Snapchat came to prominence because it enabled users to share photos and videos that only lasted a short time before they disappear forever; hence no digital history that can come back to embarrass or shame the user later.
Along with its signature feature Snapchat makes the user experience fun and be expressive with a range of novel and creative customisations available to users on a simple to use interface requiring nothing more than a smartphone and a person’s finger to fully utilise.
How Snapchat Works
Like all major digital networking devices Snapchat is evolving and expanding its utility all the time. This is not meant to be an exhaustive outline, merely an introduction to the main features.
A simple summary is: a user, or Snapchatter takes a photo, chooses how or if they what to customise it, they then send it as a Snap or add it to a Story. Recipients can reply to this message in the form of a Snapback. Users can also have private text or video chats with friends within Snapchat.
Snaps: Taking a Photo or video via Snapchat and sending it to your chosen recipients who are also on Snapchat as you would any sms type message. The image and message you can send is a Snap and can only be viewed for a few seconds by the recipient before it is automatically deleted.
Stories: Is a snap or a series of snaps that a user can send out to a range of recipients. Each recipient can have unlimited views of the snaps within a story for up to 24 hours. A story is like a narrative of the day or an event in pictures.
Snapback: A snapback refers to a recipient’s reply to a snap
Scores: Along side each user name there is a number, or a score. The score is meant to reflect the total number of snaps a user has sent or viewed during their time on Snapchat. The exact way the score is calculated becomes more complex depending on how Snapchat is used.
Chat: Pretty straight forward, the chat feature that lets you privately communicate via direct message with friends.
Here: As with chat but Here lets the user have a live video chat within a direct message.
Lenses: Built in filters that can be quickly applied to photos or videos taken within Snapchat. Lenses alter the image in a variety of ways which add to the creativity and fun aspect of the user experience.
Doodles: As the name suggests Doodling enables a Snapchatter to draw on a photo they have taken before sending it on as a Snap.
Stickers: Also as simple as the name suggests, Stickers are small pre-made images that a user digitally “sticks on” to their photo before sending it as a snap.
What Teenagers Love About It
It Is Easy
Snapchat is, and will continue, to be popular because it is just so easy to use. Take a photo, apply a lense, draw a doodle, add caption, hit send and just like that you have sent a unique creation that expresses what is happening for you to those you most want to share it with. There is no delay, no multiple log ons, no requirement for other software or a bigger screens.
The ease of use will attract lots of users, but of course it appeals to teens. The learning curve is quick, and the good results can be achieved in a short period of time. Just tapping and dragging your finger across your smart phone enables a teen to create a unique, clever (?!!), and expressive work of art. There aren’t lots of features, add ons, menus, or streams to master to get initial satisfaction. Teens will feel competent and creative very quickly.
It Is Ephemeral
That means it is all about now. Snapchat isn’t there to record history or capture memories, it exists to share a moment.
Why wouldn’t a teenager love that concept?
Because nothing lasts for more than a day Snapchat captures the adolescent live for the moment vibe. At any moment a teenager can share with their friends exactly what they are experiencing and not worry that it is going to be recorded. In this way it is like sharing funny experience at a party, or doing something silly and spontaneous in the mall; it is the essential antidote to the “you had to be there” problem. Teens can now have there friends there, even if they aren’t, and it doesn’t get shared with the rest of the world, nor does it hang around like a bad smell a month later. It happens. It is shared. It is gone.
It Is Visual
They say a picture captures a thousand words, and Snapchat is proving just how true it is. While Instagram allows for sharing of images easily, it has become very much a place to show off photography skills, collate carefully manufactured photos, and create a curated visual record.
Snapchat avoids the photo art syndrome because of its ephemeral nature. Pictures last only for seconds or up to a day at most, so no point being too busy with them. The purpose of them is to communicate a feeling, and experience, or a message that has its focus on the here and now.
Instead of having to type multiple texts, a user can simply take a photo, or series of photos, to convey the message. For a generation that is increasingly visual, Snapchat is a natural fit; eliminating the barrier of reading text to share an experience. Emoticon’s and sms abbreviations are great, but only because they make text easier. Being able to communicate with images eliminates the requirement for text work-arounds altogether.
It Feels Authentic
Teens believe that Snapchat offers a more genuine and authentic version of their friends lives. Where as Facebook and Instagram represent highly curated and selective versions of people’s existence, Snapchat is considered to be real time, raw, irreverent, self-deprecating, holistic, and more genuine reflection of the whole person.
As a generation that increasingly values authenticity and exalts anti-hype communication, Snap chat appeals to the generational consciousness of today’s teenagers.
Because the user controls the recipient list, and the messages don’t last, teenagers have a greater sense of control over their sharing. As we will discuss later this in not necessarily an entirely accurate assumption, but compared to previous social media platforms Snapchat gives teens a sense they can contain and target their disclosure and sharing.
Jokes can be kept within the group. Images kept between friends. Experiences shared only with those who are deemed worthy. How perfectly adolescent!
But what makes it even more attractive, you don’t have to “friend” your mum or dad on Snapchat! Teen’s love that they can be silly and inappropriate and not worry that mum might stumble upon the post. Finally, a teenager can hangout with friends without physical proximity and without mum or dad snooping.
One of the more interesting changes among teenagers Snapchat is facilitating is the retreat from public approval and the additional pressure that previous social media enabled. Teenagers are very sensitive to their follower count and number of likes and public opinion about what is posted on Facebook, Google+, Instagram etc.
Snapchat removes that pressure, as a person’s network is not on display to the world. Only friends see and can only respond in the moment. Teens don’t need to be conscious of how a particular comment or image might be construed when it appears in another person’s feed a few days later. Status update anxiety is non-existent. Snapchat relieves the peer pressure and social stress associated with the far reaching and time trapping nature of platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
As teenager Andrew Watts describes “Snapchat has a lot less social pressure attached to it… If I don’t get any likes on my Instagram photo or Facebook post within fifteen minutes you can sure bet I’ll delete it.”
Point of Differentiation
Just as teenagers saw Facebook as way of differentiating themselves from those old school people on Myspace all those years ago, the current batch of teenagers (hardly a generation) see Snapchat as being their marker distinguishing them from the oldies who still think Facebook is new and cool.
This is one reason why I think Snapchat will follow Facebook’s trajectory in popularity. This cohort of teens are adopting it and making it their own already. This tendency will spread to more and more teens over next few years and become a key source of difference from their older siblings, cousins, parents, and other adults.
Adults should never underestimate a teenager’s need to be different to those who have gone before, especially when the difference has the utility to exclude adults from a part of their world.
Real time Feedback
Teenagers love getting instant feedback, and Snapchat enables them to get a response right away, as it is basically the same as a text message. One Snap can illicit multiple snapbacks in a matter on minutes.
But it is not just the snapbacks that are instant, Snapchat allows teens to see in realtime who has or is viewing their snap or their story with a touch and swipe of the screen.
There is nothing like instant gratification to get a teenager’s undivided attention.
It Is Fun
Snapchat is fun to use. The filters, the lenses, the ability to swap faces, adding funny captions to photos, and just enjoying laughing with your friends is good fun. Some of the things people come up with are laugh out loud funny. And we all know that the threshold for a giggly teenager to laugh out loud isn’t that high.
It Is Popular
While it is not quite there yet, Snapchat is approaching that point of critical mass. With between 100 – 200 million users Snapchat is no Facebook, but it is on the way. When, and if, it becomes so popular that it feels like everyone is else is on it, teens will be compelled to get onto it. Depending on the peer group, it is obvious some teens are already at that point. Ubiquity will fuel the Fear Of Missing Out syndrome and no teenager will want to be the one left waiting for the latest social updates on Facebook or Instagram while everyone else is keeping up in real time on Snapchat. Of course competitors like WhatsAp, Facebook messenger, and YikYak might have a say, but at the moment Snapchat has the momentum.
What Parents Need to Know
There are lots of reasons for teenagers to get into using Snapchat, but does that mean they should? To help parents have an informed opinion about the merits or drawback of Snapchat for teenagers, I have outlined what I think the key issues are and what parents need to keep in mind when talking to their teens.
Secondly Snapchat users agree to allow Snapchat access to their contacts list upon sign up. This means the contact details of family and friends are uploaded and stored on Snapchat servers often without permission or knowledge.
Thirdly Snapchat retains the royalty free rights to any image a user sends via Snapchat.
False Sense of Security
As parents you need to be very clear that although one of the selling points of Snapchat is the temporary nature of what is sent because it is meant to be deleted, this is not necessarily the case.
There is a function that alerts the user if someone saves / downloads an image to a device. However knowing someone has saved an image doesn’t give the sender much control.
There are also some straightforward workarounds that mean the sender doesn’t know an image has been captured. A couple of the more common include;
- If the receiver opens and image and then takes a photo of their phones screen with another device, the image is now stored on a digital device and the sender is not the wiser.
- When the receiver gets the image they open it, put their phone in airplane mode, take a screenshot, then turn airplane mode off. The receiver has saved the image and the sender has no idea.
I am sure there are many other ways of doing this, the point is you need to be clear with your teen that there is no guarantees that what they send will disappear.
The golden rule parents need to drill into their kids is nothing transmitted digitally is ever really destroyed. Never assume that what starts private will remain private.
Instant Can be Dangerous
As mentioned the instantaneous and real time nature of Snapchat is a big part of its appeal. However it also presents one of its greatest dangers.
We know that teenagers don’t manage risk well, their brains are wired to be impulsive and reactive. This means that in the heat of the moment a mostly sensible teen can be convinced to make stupid decision.
The immediate nature of Snapchat exposes teens to making rash and regrettable choices about what they send. The assumed privacy and security of images being instantly deleted can cause teens to let their guard down and start exchanging images they wouldn’t want going public.
Even good kids can make dumb choices in the right circumstance.
The best thing parents can do is talk and keep talking to teenagers about the lack of privacy in the digital world. If you are really worried, limit when a teenager has access to their phone so they are only using it in public places i.e. not in the bedroom at night.
Stranger Danger is Reduced
One of the advantages of Snapchat is that teens are far less likely to connect with someone they don’t actually know. Snapchat makes use of the users contacts or address book. Unlike other social media forums where most people have followers or friends they have never met, Snapchat is generally restricted to only people who your teen would have reason to store detail in their phone.
This does not mean there is no danger of imposters gaining access to your teen’s Snaps, but the likelihood is reduced.
There Can be Pressure
Despite the attraction to teens of no longer feeling the pressure of how many followers or likes they might have, there is a pressure in terms of the Snapchat score. Anytime teenagers have the chance to compare or compete they will take it. The fact that each user has a number next to their user name means there will be an implied pressured to get as big as number as possible.
No one wants to feel like the least experienced or proficient, or to put in another way, no one wants to be the NOOB!
The pressure, be it internal or external, imagined or real, will drive some teenagers to be hyper attentive and responsive to what is happening on Snapchat. Every Snap and Snapback gets a point, so some teens will be hesitant to let an opportunity to slide.
For some teens with the right mix of insecurity and addictive tendency, this can quickly spiral into an unhealthy and distracting obsession.
As a parent, try to monitor how often your teen is on Snapchat. If your teen is more attentive to their phone once they have Snapchat, consider stepping in early. Options range from restricting access times to their smartphone, through to deleting the app until they get a bit older. If you start early, hopefully you will be able to teach moderation.
Curated Lives Still Possible
While teenagers like to think that Snapchat is a more real-time, less enhanced, and authentic reflection of their friends life than forums like Facebook and Instagram, the truth is just like any media Snapchat can be used selectively.
If a teenager only ever Snaps photos showing them surrounded by other people, it can give the impression of popularity, which may or may not reflect the reality of who they are.
Cyber Bullying Is Easier
Teens can easily use Snapchat to bully and exclude others, and the big advantage for bullies is it happens in private and the evidence often disappears instantly. Teens can send threatening or demeaning texts, know when the victim has read them, include other bystanders, and best of all be nearly certain the text will not be captured for recriminations.
Snapchat can also be used to as a form of social exclusion. If a group of teens are all at a party they might decide to all send various Snaps of the party and include a teen who wasn’t invited, and is so doing create a sense of alienation or isolation for that teen.
Teens need to be taught how to capture offensive or intimidating Snaps and given permission to share their experience with a trusted adult.
Supervision is Difficult
The big deal for many parents with Snapchat is that it brings to an end the era of being able to directly monitor your teen’s online activity via friending or following them on social platforms. Snapchat gives the user complete control on who they send Snaps to and who they don’t, so there is no way for parents to be sure they are seeing all of what their teen is up to.
Parents might need to adopt a new, and I think better, paradigm of digital parenting. Relying on direct monitoring can result in parents assuming too much, and engaging with their teens too little. Being your kid’s friend on Facebook can be create a false sense of security for parents.
There are programs and tools becoming available that allow parents to control, read and block messaging apps and what is sent on them, but we need to assume teens will always be one step ahead.
Snapchat is here to stay. I can see it becoming a dominant medium over the next decade. So for those hoping it will go away, you might need to adjust your expectations.
This app is designed to be attractive for teens to the point of feeling essential for some young users. As soon as your kid’s peers get onto it you can expect your teen to be exploring the Snapchat option if they haven’t already.
There has been a fair bit of hysteria about messaging apps, and I understand why. Parents, I encourage you to talk to your teen calmly about Snapchat; do they have it, if they do ask what they use if for. Talk about their understanding and assumptions, outline the dangers, and stress they can come to you if things get uncomfortable or out of control. Key messages are; nothing is private in the online digital space, think twice before you send or participate, and report what you know is wrong.
Remember you are the parent. You have the right and responsibility to set boundaries with your teenager, boundaries include the when and where of digital usage and behaviour. If your teen is not coping with the limits you have given them, reign them in for short time.
As the world becomes more mobile, more connected, with smaller devices, and a greater array of apps and tools, the era of direct monitoring as the primary form of parenting online is coming to an end. Apps like Snapchat will force us as parents to adopt a more relational, intentional, and active form of digital leadership with our kids.
In the meantime, keep engaging with your kids about their digital lives. Be sure to take your responsibility to teach and model digital citizenship seriously. Teach them about acting responsibly, avoiding danger, being kind and wise, how to manage risk, and what to do when they feel pressured or stressed.
As always would love to know your thoughts or experiences, so leave a comment or send me an email with your view.