Snapchat is one of the top social media apps teens use to communicate today (my kids, too). Over the past few years, Snapchat has become a staple on a teen’s phone for its simple, one-to-one messaging and friend Stories. The app maker also released some new parental control features too, and chimed in on this article to help us explain some of those. So if your teen is a Snapchatter—this guide will help you talk through some safe strategies while Snapping.

What is Snapchat and why is it so popular with kids?

According to the company, “Snapchat is a visual messaging app that enhances your relationships with friends, family, and the world. [Snap] believes the camera presents the greatest opportunity to improve the way people live and communicate. Snapchat empowers people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together.”

While some social media platforms feature a newsfeed, the option to build a following, track likes and video views, Snapchat focuses on sharing one-to-one communication with friends.

Teens can chat one-to-one with friends by sending Snaps and Stories. Snaps are pictures or videos. A collection of these images and videos is called a Story. Snapchat also lets users add augmented reality (AR) Lenses and other treatment to images, allowing for quick and easy visual expression.

Snapchat messages are designed so that most communications are automatically deleted after a short period of time. For example, Snapchat servers automatically delete Snaps after they’ve been viewed by all recipients; one-on-one chats are set to delete 24 hours after they have been viewed. Messages sent in group chat are automatically deleted one day after everyone has viewed them. These default deletion policies help images from being shared or going viral, although Snapchat does offer a way to save them.

How does Snapchat work?

Snapchat opens directly to a camera, not a content feed. Additional features you need to know about:

Camera—Create a Snap, Story or Spotlight. Tap the shutter button for a photo, or hold it down to record a video. Then teens can add text to the image, draw on it with a pencil icon, or add music with the music note icon and several other editing options.

Chat—Located to the left of the camera shutter button is the Chat screen, where the app users can send direct messages to other Snapchat users.

Snap Map—Further to the left of the Chat screen is the Snap Map, a personalized map that can be used to explore places and events happening near the app user, and see what friends are up to if they choose to share their location with you. By default, location-sharing is off for all Snapchatters. They have the option to decide to share it on the Map with friends—but not with someone who is not listed as a friend.

Chat—A private messenger to send direct messages to other Snapchatters.

Discover—Tap the people icon to the right of the camera to explore content from Snapchat’s vetted publishers and content creators. Snapchat doesn’t offer an open newsfeed.

Stories—These are short images or video clips. They disappear 24 hours after they’re shared.

Spotlight—This newer addition to Snapchat features short videos set to trending audio, and these could be dances or other types of short-form content. Snapchat also manually reviews these videos before it reaches 25 views to ensure that it’s appropriate for the platform.

Augmented Reality Lenses—To use the fun AR Lenses, such as turning your face into a puppy dog, scroll through the Lens Carousel to the right of the shutter button. Swipe through options here to see a preview of what the various Lenses can do.

Is there an age limit for Snapchat?

Snapchat guidelines state that “no one under 13 is allowed to create an account or use Snapchat.” There are also additional safety features for teens under the age of 18. For example, no one under the age of 18 can have a public-facing profile.

Is Snapchat safe for teens?

Snapchat has taken many steps to create a safe experience for all members, as well as building in additional protections for teenagers in particular. They’ve also introduced an in-app tool called Family Center. This tool helps parents get more insight into who their teens are friends with on Snapchat, and who they have been messaging, while still respecting teens’ privacy and autonomy. You know your child best, so download the app and use it yourself for about a week to see how it works and what kind of content you see. Once you’ve evaluated it for yourself, you can better determine if the app is appropriate for your child.

You can also view Snapchat’s new Parent Guide to learn more about how the app has added new features to make it a safer experience for teens.

What should parents know about Snapchat

Snapchat typically deletes images shortly after they’ve been viewed by the recipient. But it does provide a way for images to be saved and it’s important for teens to understand this so that they avoid sending inappropriate images. So it’s also important to talk with kids about protecting their online privacy, and not sharing things they don’t want public—even if it’s between friends.

Snapchat messages are also deleted immediately after the recipient opens them, or 24 hours after a sent message is unopened. That means parents can’t see what images kids are sharing between each other—but parents can see who their kids are talking to. From Snapchat’s perspective, their goal is to give parents more insight into who their teens are talking to, without violating a teens’ privacy.

It’s also worth noting that kids with Snapchat accounts can view content from people they don’t follow, so it’s important to have a conversation with your kid about what is and isn’t appropriate content.

How to use Snapchat’s parental controls

Snapchat’s recently released in-app tool, Family Center, was created while working with families and online safety experts to develop these features.

About the parental controls:

  • You can see which Snapchat friends your teens have sent messages, photos, or videos to in the last seven days, in a way that still protects your teens’ privacy by not revealing the actual contents of their conversations.

  • You can see a complete list of their teens’ existing friends. A new feature will also allow parents to easily view new friends your teens have added, making it easy to start conversations about who their new contacts are.

  • Easily and confidentially report any accounts parents may be concerned about directly to the 24/7 Trust and Safety teams to investigate.

  • Access key explainers about how to use these tools; resources for important conversation starters with their teens; and additional tips for using Snapchat safely. 

  • Teens who have opted in to Family Center will also be able to see what their parents see, with a mirrored view of features.

You can view who your teen is friends with on Snapchat and who they have been messaging. Parents can also report any inappropriate behavior, such as bullying or harassment. It does not monitor content or allow you to approve contacts.

  • To set up these controls, you need your own Snapchat account.

  • In the app, tap the magnifying glass icon at the top of the screen and type Family Center. The option for Family Center will appear. Tap it and select your child from your friends list.

  • If they are not listed, search for their username in the field provided.

  • Once you have selected your child’s account, tap Send Invitation. Your child will receive a notification in Snapchat that they need to approve the Family Center invitation. 

Once they accept the invite, your teen’s profile will appear in the Family Center and you can tap View Friends