Are you friends with your kids on Facebook? Whether out of concern for their online safety or simple curiosity about their online (and offline) activities, the majority of parents who use social media (92%) say that they monitor their kids’ Facebook use to some extent.

The problem is that the presence of so many adults on Facebook is, in part, causing teens to leave the social network in droves.

Many of these teens are migrating instead to new, smaller networks, where adults have less of a presence. Apps and social networks like Tumblr, Instagram, and Snapchat, are still tiny compared to the Facebook juggernaut, but they are rapidly growing, with teens making up a large percentage of their user bases.

Social media is popular with the vast majority of teens: 90% have used a social networking site. However for students in online schools in particular, whose friendships may form and grow online, and whose friends may be located far away geographically, social networks can play an even more important role in their lives. It’s so important then for kids to understand how to use these networks safely and responsibly, and for parents to be aware of what their kids are up to online.

Snapchat gives kids a false sense of security

Snapchat in particular is a popular app that parents should know about. This free messaging app for iOS and Android allows users to send text, video or photo messages and set a time limit, up to ten seconds. Once opened by the recipient, the messages self-destruct when the time is up.

The problem here is that the app lends a false sense of security, so kids may feel more comfortable sending photos or videos that they otherwise would not, assuming the messages are temporary. This self-destruct feature has gained Snapchat a reputation as a sexting app.

It’s important for kids to realize that anything they send online has the potential to never go away. Even content that they think has been deleted may still be saved on a server or as a screenshot somewherestill accessible to prying eyes.

Snapchat, for instance, allows users to take a screenshot of messages before they disappear. Normally the sender is alerted when this happens. However, some users have found ways to get around this, and take screenshots without sending a notification, thanks to a glitch in the app. So a photo sent to one person can easily be captured via screenshot and shared with anyone without the sender’s knowledge. As a result, the potential for embarrassment, damage to reputations, legal repercussions, and bullying is very real.

Teach kids to protect themselves

The importance of teaching kids to be responsible digital citizens with clean online footprints can’t be overemphasized. Kids need to realize that anything sent online, even things that they think are private or temporary, still have the potential to be made public.

Talk to your kids about what apps they use and make sure they understand and follow the rules you’ve established for their app and social media use. If you don’t already have one, consider making a family media contract, outlining your expectations for your kids’ media use. Read this blog post for more tips on keeping kids safe, and teaching them to protect themselves online.

If your kids use Snapchat:

  • Parents should know that unlike Facebook, Instagram, and other apps, Snapchat does not have age restrictions, meaning anyone can have an account. Users can add friends whose information they have in their device’s address book (phone number or email address).
  • If your kids use the app, make sure that they adjust the app’s privacy settings so that only their friends can find them and send Snaps, and that they do not share their user name in a public forum. The default setting allows anyone who knows a user’s username to send messages, meaning spammers and others can send messages. Pornographic spam has been a problem on Snapchat when privacy settings are not set to block strangers.
  • Besides limiting the kinds of Snaps they send themselves and following the standards of good digital citizenship, kids who use the app should know to go to an adult if they receive a troublesome message and to block and report the sender.

When used appropriately, Snapchat can be a fun app for many teens, however for some it may not be worth the risk. It’s up to parents to decide if their kids are old enough and can be trusted to use the app responsibly.

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