Forget Facebook and Twitter — Snapchat is the digital stomping ground where all the kids are hanging out these days. A new study from the Associated Press discovered that while 66% of teens use Facebook, and 47% use Twitter, a full 75% use Snapchat. It’s incredibly popular, and if you have a teenage son or daughter, there’s a really good chance that they’re using Snapchat on their smartphone.
A new feature in the messaging app is raising lots of parental eyebrows, and we’ve been getting quite a few other questions related to Snapchat and digital parenting, too. So, have a seat, here’s what you need to know, especially if you’ve been letting your kids have full control over their app habits.
Snap Map —> Ghost Mode
Snapchat’s fancy new feature is called the Snap Map. It’s like a funky GPS locator for all your kids’ Snapchat friends. When they first activate it, it asks if they want to share their location with all of their friends, some of their friends, or keep it private with “Ghost Mode.” Far-too-trusting teens may be tempted to let the whole world know where they’re hanging out, but parents know better. It might be useful for twenty-somethings trying to find a party on a Saturday night, but why does the world need to know where your teen is spending the afternoon — or even weirder — where they live?
Snapchat’s answer to this is that the only people who can see your kids location on a map are people they’re friends with. So, the first question is, has your teen ever friended anyone they don’t actually know first-hand? The answer is often, “yes,” which leads to a potential for creeps to exploit. According to Snapchat, “Snaps you submit to Our Story can still show up on the Map, no matter what location setting you choose! These are not Snaps sent between friends, but ones shared with the Snapchat community.”
Want to wipe your kids avatar’s off the map, so to speak? Here’s how they can go into “Ghost Mode,” and control exactly who can see where they are. First, tap the little gear icon in the upper right corner, then scroll down to where it says “Who can … See my location.” Tap it, and click “Ghost Mode” so it turns on.
Now your teen can browse the map without showing their own location to a whole bunch of people who shouldn’t know it in the first place.
On Facebook, my mom-friend Tamara recently brought up another question we’ve been getting a lot lately, “What are some good apps to track the amount of time spent on a phone? I want to help my son become more aware of the hours Snapchat is sucking up.”
Our top tip for keeping a growing Snapchat addiction in check without crossing the line into being an “overprotective” parent? Join Snapchat yourself.
OK, OK, I know that’s probably not what you were expecting, but keep an open mind, because there’s a number of benefits here. Kids adore Snapchat because it’s like a secret language that they think you don’t speak. In fact, a huge survey of Snapchat teens by Variety shows that nearly a third of kids using the app prefer it because, and I quote, “My parents don’t use it.”
Creating a Snapchat profile and befriending your kid lets them know that you’re not quite as oblivious as they might think, but there’s an even better reason to join up. Once you’re Snapchat friends with your teen, you can actually see the exact number of snaps they’re sending and receiving. Tapping on a friend’s name, then opening their Snapchat profile on the app shows a small counter below their name that goes up every time they send or receive a snap. And there’s the added bonus of being able to browse your teen’s Snapchat “Memories,” which is an archive of any snaps they send that they want to keep forever.
Joining Snapchat is really the easiest way to keep an eye on your kids’ Snapchat habits without being “lame,” but if you’re less concerned with the content they’re sending and more worried about their eyes being glued to that tiny screen for hours on end, an app intervention might be the way to go. We have some go-to tools for that, too.
I love the app called Moment for this. It’s an iPhone app time tracker that does nothing more than keep a tally of how much time someone is spending on their phone, and what they’re doing with it. It’s the ultimate counter-argument whenever your teen insists that they’re not tapping their life away on Snapchat, and you can point to hard numbers to set your own personal limits for how much is too much. If your kid has an Android phone, the BreakFree app does pretty much the same thing, but adds in some handy charts and warning notifications when they’re using an app for longer than they should be.
If simple tracking and reminders aren’t enough to break your teen free from Snapchat’s grasp, taking the next step is easy. MMGuardian for Android smartphones is like a parental watchdog that reports all kinds of info on your kids’ app usage right to your own phone. It also tracks SMS messages and calls, and lets you block numbers and even lock down apps from their phone, so it might be overkill depending on the situation, but it’s a nice tool to have in your back pocket.
Snapchat’s popularity isn’t likely to wane any time soon, so responsible parents taking a proactive approach with these tips and tools early on is the best way to avoid more serious problems with privacy and smartphone addiction down the road.
Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech contributor and host of USA TODAY's digital video show TECH NOW. Email her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferJolly.