The Risks and Dangers of Snapchat for Teens

Parental concerns when kids use snapchat

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin 

Snapchat is very popular among teens. It's a phone app that allows users to send photos and videos (called snaps) to other users. However, unlike with photos or videos sent via text or email, those sent on Snapchat disappear seconds after they're viewed. Snapchat does have some risks, so it's important for parents to be aware of how it works. Use this guide to Snapchat to help keep your tween or teen safer online.

What Is Snapchat?

Snapchat allows users can send time-limited photos that might be embarrassing or just silly without a significant fear that an image will find its way to other social media sites where it might live forever. With Snapchat, teens have a way to interact that feels authentic and fun. It's meant to be low-pressure and low-stakes.

This sense of freedom and low consequences can encourage kids to send more questionable pictures than they normally might. Unfortunately, there are ways to capture and recover images sent via Snapchat, which is why no one should develop a false sense of security about them.

How Snapchat Works

Once a teen downloads the Snapchat app, they create an account and set a password. The app then accesses their cellphone contacts to load friends to the app, or they can add other friends beyond their contact list.

Once they load the app and log in, they can take a photo, edit it, and add a filter, caption, or stickers. Then they select the friends to send the photo to and set a timer from one to 10 seconds. After the photo is sent, the receiver has that much time to look at the photo before the message "self-destructs."

Friends can then take their own photos to reply or just send a text message back.

The Origins of Snapchat

Snapchat was developed by two Stanford University students who felt emoticons weren't sufficient to transmit the emotion someone might wish could be sent with a text message.

But they were also nervous that a quick snap of a cellphone camera showing a particular emotion might end up being inappropriate for a social media site where the picture could be posted for all the world to see. Thus, the concept of a time-limited photo-sharing application was born.

Popularity

Snapchat is wildly popular with teens. About 41% of teens ages 13 to 17 using the app, according to the Pew Research Group. Consider these stats, compiled by Omnicore:

  • In 2020, Snapchat had an average of 218 million daily active users that generated over three billion snaps a day.
  • Active Snapchatters open the app 30 times a day.
  • More than 60% of active Snapchatters create new content on a daily basis.
  • On average, users spend 49.5 minutes a day on Snapchat and send 34.1 messages a day.

Parental Concerns About Snapchat

Despite its popularity, parents are right to be concerned about Snapchat. It has a host of issues that can compromise kids' safety.

First, Snapchat doesn't save pictures and messages sent so you can see them later. So it is very hard for parents to monitor their teen's activity on Snapchat. Even if you have a monitoring tool that allows you to see the content of your child's phone remotely, you won't be able to see what was sent and then automatically deleted. That may raise some concerns.

Second, while the photo message disappears after a few seconds, the receiver can take a screenshot of the photo while it's live. That means it's not really gone.

If a receiver takes a screenshot of the photo, the sender is notified. But the receiver can still easily share the photo with others.

A receiver could also take a photo of the screen with another phone or digital camera to evade the notification feature. Then the sender would not know that their supposedly evaporating photo is preserved on someone else's device.

Finally, because of the lower risks of having a photo eventually making the rounds of the Internet, it's also tempting for teens to use Snapchat for sexting. Snapchat itself admits that up to 25% of users may send sensitive content on a regular basis “experimentally.”

One father, whose daughter was being bullied via Snapchat—a reportedly all-too-common occurrence—was able to use this workaround for good when he recorded one of the bullying snaps by taking a video of it on his own phone.

Parents who allow their children to have Snapchat need to have a serious discussion with their kids about the risks associated with the false sense of security that Snapchat may provide.

Other Snapchat Features

In addition to photo sharing and messaging, Snapchat has other features that parents should be aware of.

Snap Map

Snap Map allows users to share their location in real time with anyone on their Snapchat friend list and see the locations of their friends who do the same. The feature is a way to use the location services already available in many other smartphone apps.

Since some Snapchat contacts may not be real friends, this is a big safety risk. It can also be a source of hurt feelings if kids feel excluded from a gathering.

Unless there's a specific event and it makes it easier for friends to know each other's location, experts advise leaving Snap Map off or using it in "ghost mode," which allows you to see the location of friends who haven't hidden their locations.

Discover

The Discover feature allows users to see content from popular media channels—many of which may offer sexually oriented content. Although Snapchat's terms of service discourage explicit content, these channels include images posted from magazines, television stations, and other content providers that can be inappropriate for children. Consider this when deciding at which age to allow your child to use Snapchat.

Some of the popular channels featured on Discover include MTV, Cosmopolitan, Vice, and BuzzFeed.

A lawsuit filed in California in 2016 cited some offensive Snapchat Discover content including "people share their secret rules for sex" and "10 things he thinks when he can't make you orgasm." Some parents may not be comfortable with their tweens and teens having immediate access to articles like these.

Snapstreaks

A Snapstreak is when two users have snapped back and forth within a 24-hour period for three days in a row. Once this occurs, a flame emoji and a number will appear next to the users' names to show how long the streak has been maintained. Maintaining streaks is very important to teens because streaks allow kids to interact socially and feel part of something many of their peers are doing.

For many kids, they're a measure of their friendships. Experts worry, though, that the pressure of keeping a streak going—teens are often maintaining many streaks at the same time—may take a toll on kids.

Snapchat Safeguards for Teens

It's important to note that Snapchat does have a minimum age of 13, which is in compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. When it's downloaded, Snapchat asks for date of birth, and if the user is under 13, they are redirected to the kid version, called "SnapKidz," which is more restrictive than Snapchat (for instance, you can't add friends or share anything).

Some teens may be mature and responsible enough to use Snapchat safely at age 13, but others may need several years more, As their parent, you are the best judge of when your child is ready to use Snapchat. You can also decide to let them try it out, but if you feel they aren't using it appropriately, you can put it on pause until they're ready to try again.

It's not uncommon for underage kids to find a workaround (that is, using a fake birthdate) so they can open an account.

A Word From Verywell

Snapchat can be a fun and engaging app when used appropriately, carefully, and with very specific ground rules. Apps like Snapchat remind parents that they need to be vigilant about their children's smartphone use and talking to them about expectations for their activity to prevent problems like sexting, cyberstalking, cyberbullying, or other potential downsides of smartphone use by children.

Was this page helpful?
6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lenhart A. Pew Research Center. Teens, social media & technology overview 2015.

  2. Omnicore Agency. Snapchat by the numbers: stats, demographics & fun facts.

  3. Shah J, Das P, Muthiah N, Milanaik R. New age technology and social media: adolescent psychosocial implications and the need for protective measures. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2019;31(1):148-156. doi:10.1097/MOP.0000000000000714

  4. Dave P. Snapchat sued for being too sexy for minors. Los Angeles Times.

  5. Powell-Lunder J. Caution: Your tween may be stressing over Snap streaks. Psychology Today.

  6. Common Sense Media. Parents ultimate guide to Snapchat.