Today my daughter asked me a question that has been apparently answered differently by many of my friends. My answer was a vehement “No” and I will also go on the record as saying that I think any other response I could have given my daughter today would have been a disservice to her.
Now, I will explain.
The question was “Can I have Snapchat on my phone?”
Before you write this off, roll your eyes at me and say “By my daughter is responsible, she wouldn’t do anything inappropriate.” Um yeah, I think I can use that statement too. But they are 11 and there are things that they don’t need to be dealing with right now.
Let me start by saying that my first reaction to my daughter’s question wasn’t because I was thinking of the really nasty stories that are out there. IF you are saying “What nasty stories?” – AND your child already has Snapchat on her phone, then I want you to brace yourself for what I’m going to tell you because you are about to get a real awakening. There are absolutely very real dangers. You can easily find articles of girls (and boys) taking pictures of themselves in restrooms. I know how Snapchat works, but my daughter doesn’t know that I do, so she told me “You know the photos are gone instantly, right Mom?” I decided not to use that moment to explain the concept to my 11-year-old that nothing is ever really erased (just like nothing is ever really free) which unfortunately is the case for the thousands of photos that have been saved from the Snapchat hack that was so prolific it even has its own name “The Snappening” I’m more concerned about a hack like this than the one Target customers experienced back in 2013. Money can be replaced, my daughter’s innocence cannot.
I could have told her about the article I read about the girls from Ridgeway, NJ who sent nude photos to a boy thinking they’d be gone in just a couple of seconds. They later learned he was a bit more tech savvy than they were, and ended up redistributing them all over school. They’ll never live that down and just stop to imagine for a moment what life is like for those girls these days.
Of course, you are thinking that your child wouldn’t take nude photos of themselves? Probably not. Just like my child wouldn’t ever do something so foolish either. But wait a second. You see, I noticed something odd when I was looking at the text messages my daughter received and sent a couple days ago to a friend. (Note: I review her texts quite often just to see what’s going on. It was part of the agreement when she got her phone and I also know her password, this is also a requirement. I explained to her that, she can have an expectation of privacy but at her age, she has no right to privacy and certainly not from her loving parents who only want the best for her.) In one thread in particular, there were some messages that said underneath each one “From Nancy” (of course, Nancy is not the real name here). This was being done as a way to communicate who was really sending the message – on my daughter’s phone. This immediately created another rule today which is “Nobody ever uses your phone except in an emergency situation.” So back to those nude photos. Unless you have a similar agreement with your child, it may not be him/her taking inappropriate pictures, but someone who innocently asks to use their phone for a minute.
Okay, the last one gets us closer to home – at least for me and that’s not just because it happened in Sheboygan which is only an hour’s drive. This little girl shared a pic on Snapchat simply that she was at the local Piggly Wiggly – and was abducted and assaulted. Fortunately, she got away and he’s facing 25 years.
Why does this resonate so deeply with me? Some of my friends know that my 13-year old cousin was abducted from her local Dairy Queen and later killed. And though this was way before Snapchat was even being dreamed about, she is never far from my thoughts and I sometimes see her in my little girl and all of her friends. I see them through a lens that many parents can’t possibly know.
It’s not just this fear that drove me to share these thoughts with you tonight. In all honesty, I had a completely different night planned than the one I’m spending writing this message. I have a meeting tomorrow to prep for, a whole group of Girl Scouts who are selling cookies and might need some encouragement from their leader, and a new business that needs my attention so I can focus on my clients during business hours tomorrow. But this conversation with my daughter today made me put all that on hold. My daughter matters more. My daughter’s friends matter more. I told her this evening how thankful I am that I am able to be available to her when she needs to talk about something with me. I used to not be as available and I fear that this lack of availability is actually the very thing that some of my friends are dealing with. These conversations are hard. My daughter actually cried today – the “all my friends have it” plea actually came with tears and I still said “No.” It sure would have been easier to say “Yes”. She would have been happy, we could have done something else this afternoon other than talk about this and I could have gotten some other projects done. But this mattered more. You matter more.
If you are still sure that this application is something you are comfortable with your child having access to, please read and review (I would suggest with the entire family) the Snapchat Guide for Parents. You may also be interested in this Teen Pledge for Being Smart and Safe Online.