Should I let my 14-year-old use ‘Snap Chat’?

Michael RichMichael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Q: My 14-year-old daughter has been begging to get ‘Snap Chat’ on her iPod Touch. I searched for information on it and found this and I wasn’t initially impressed… I am tech savvy and know screen shots can easily be saved, but also, if she loses her device and someone else sends something, she could be held responsible. I don’t like the idea of Snap Chat and am weary of my daughter’s “everyone has it” plea. What do you think? What have you heard about it—risks etc.?

Suspicious of Snap Chat, Boston, MA

A: Dear Suspicious,

Snap Chat allows you to send and receive photos that are deleted within seconds (along with any digital trace of them, Snap Chat claims). You have done the right thing by looking into your daughter’s request and by researching the Snap Chat application yourself. Your concerns are certainly valid; images can be quickly and easily saved in other ways as well as distributed.

Surprised girlMany adolescents share devices and passwords as a way of showing how close they are, so even if she doesn’t ‘lose’ her iPod Touch, a friend or classmate could easily ‘borrow’ and send pictures from it. And remember that, unless you turn the location function off, most phones attach location and time/date data to every image, so even a silly picture of her cat on her bed can tell strangers where she is at what time.

In addition to doing your own research and trusting your instinct about any app she may want, there are a few questions you should ask your daughter before deciding whether to get it:

  • What does this tool do? What is the purpose of this app/device, and what function will it serve in her life?
  • How is she going to use it? Is she only going to use it for silly photo sharing with friends outside of school and other activities? Or is this an app that is used in school and can be a potential distraction for class? Also, how will she control images she receives from others?

When you ask your daughter these questions, make it clear that the ‘everybody else has one’ isn’t a good reason for getting this app or any media tool. If she really only wants to use it for making silly faces at her friends, discuss possible alternatives (making silly faces in person…) as well as the possible disadvantages (e.g., the fact that the deletion isn’t foolproof and the pic could get distributed anyway, and the fact that immediate deletion could be a problem in the case of bullying–it could remove the evidence). You may also want to invoke the ‘grandmother rule’—that is, ask her if the pictures she’d be sending and receiving are images that she’d be comfortable having her grandmother see. This emphasizes the risk of unintended distribution that comes with sharing digital images.

Remember that you as her parent have the final say in whether or not she gets the app. After speaking with your daughter, come to a conclusion that will best suit her developmental needs, not necessarily her wants.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

The Mediatrician®