Finn (7th grade) first asked for a SnapChat the beginning of the school year, and without a discussion I gave a really firm ‘No.’ You’re not old enough, not mature enough, the world is big bad scary place, SnapChat is evil, No.
A few months later he wanted to understand why. Good for him. So I tell him all the bad things that can happen with an app like SnapChat. We googled real life stories about social media gone wrong with teens committing suicide over something someone said on social media. Plus, the fact that posts on SnapChat disappear in just a few seconds lets you hide things. Not good. More on that in a minute.
Of course to him, I was being the eccentric over-reacting, over-protective mom. To me, I wasn’t take any chances with serious problems like sexting, cyber-bullying, stalkers, etc. Teens (adults too) misuse social media and the more private they think it is the more they misbehave. Then there’s creeps and weirdos out there who use social media to lure or blackmail young people to do or say bad things. So I limit and watch carefully what little bit of social media he does.
We also have a “no delete” rule. You can not delete photos or texts without my permission, and if I found out you have (and I WILL find out, I have my ways), you lose your device. Indefinitely. If you’re not OK with your mom reading what you text or post on social media, then don’t post it. I’ve even used the WWJD threat — if you wouldn’t text it to Jesus you shouldn’t text it to your friend.
Which brings me to the biggest problem I have with SnapChat: privacy. Because the snaps disappear after a few seconds the accountability for what is sent and shared is non-existent. And let’s face it, accountability measures work. Knowing that your mom is going to see whatever you send or post is a reason to keep your posts in line. Knowing that your post is going to disappear in a few seconds is just enough false security to do something stupid and think you won’t get caught.
I also don’t see the benefit to SnapChat over using other apps that allow the same things without the accountability/disappearing posts issue. If you want to share a picture with your friend, post it to Instagram (he has an Instagram) or just text them a photo. If you want to chat, text or iMessage. So the only capability SnapChat adds is the disappearing posts. Which again, if you think you need to share something that private, especially at age 12 or 13, you’re probably up to no good and shouldn’t be sharing it at all.
Finn countered that you can add emojis and text on top of photos. Eh, there’s apps that do that too.
And I get that it saves space on your phone because the photos don’t get saved to your photo album thus filling up your phone’s memory with silly one-use selfies. So go delete it when you’re done. Easy peasy. Which violates the no delete rule so you’d have to ask me before you could delete it but still, there’s a way. I have a go-around for every single thing he says SnapChat can do that other apps can’t.
The thing SnapChat does that no other app can do is make you cool. There. I said it. SnapChat makes you cool. How? Because you can say “yes” when one of your friends asks “Are you on SnapChat?” And if you and your friends think SnapChat is the best thing since sliced bread (I sound like an old person saying that don’t I?) then having the app — even if you don’t use it at all or often — makes you feel included, cool, like you’re the same as everybody else in your friend circle. And while we don’t always do what everyone else is doing (if everyone was jumping off a bridge would you jump of a bridge too?) I get that desire to fit in and if I can find a way where he gets to fit in and the risk of terrible things happening is significantly lessened, that’s what I want to do.
Finn says he just wants to share team selfies at the track meet or pics of what he’s having for dinner or selfies saying “I’m bored.” And I believe him. He’s a good kid with good intentions. But what do people want to share with him? THAT concerns me more. I know all too well that teens (and who are we kidding, adults too) use SnapChat and apps like it to hide their sexting, bullying, etc. and it’s all too easy to do.
So how I do let him enter this community where his friends are hanging out but keep him from using it inappropriately?
I decided it’s a trust issue. Do I trust him and his friends to use the app appropriately. The answer? No! How can you trust immature, impulsive moody teens to do the right thing when the wrong this is SO easy? You can’t, at least not 100%. So if I can’t trust you, I’ll create rules, rules to make it harder to do the wrong thing and easier to get caught doing the wrong thing lest your teen try.
So my No. 1 SnapChat rule is simple but strict: Before he can add anyone to his friend list I have to approve them. And I have the right to not allow him to follow someone if I don’t trust that person to use the app appropriately. So if you’re a girl who I see publicly push the limits of what’s appropriate on Instagram or be rude or use bad language on Instagram or texting with my son, he will not be your SnapChat friend. I will not give you the opportunity to take your inappropriateness to the next level with private disappearing messages.
If he adds someone without my permission, no more SnapChat. If he receives something in appropriate, he is to tell me no matter how embarrassing or no matter who gets in trouble over it. I will give him the opportunity to tell that friend that he doesn’t want to receive that kind of stuff and if they don’t stop he’ll remove them from his friend list.