A few days ago I happened to catch a tease for an upcoming segment of the Today Show about a popular app teens are using called Snapchat. Because I didn’t want to be late to work and didn’t have time to sit through Al Roker telling me what the weather would be like in my “neck of the woods,” I missed it.
As a former, parish youth minister, I was intrigued by what this app was all about. During my years of ministry, I felt that a huge part of my role in this ever-changing world was to educate teens on any potential dangers of new technology and more importantly, help them to use technology to glorify God.
I did some research about Snapchat and I believe it’s something that all youth ministers need to know about. Here are a few things I discovered:
What is Snapchat?
The official description of Snapchat is as follows:
“Snapchat is the fastest way to share a moment with friends.
You control how long your friends can view your message –
simply set the timer up to ten seconds and send.
They’ll have that long to view your message and then it disappears forever.
We’ll let you know if they take a screenshot!
Build relationships, collect points, and view your best friends.
Snapchat is instantly fun and insanely playful. Show your friends how clever you can be and enjoy the lightness of being!”
So, the basic idea is that you can text a picture of yourself to someone else, determine how long that person can view it for, and know that it will be deleted “forever.”
Why is this a problem?
The biggest problem with an app like this is that it allows teens, especially those that are tempted to engage in sexting, to perpetuate a false identity online while also giving them a false sense of security. Once a picture is taken and texted to another person it can’t just “disappear forever.” The receiver of the message could take a screenshot of their phone or take a picture of their phone with another device. Plus, there’s the reality of it going through Snapchat’s servers as well.
But Snapchat protects against screenshots, right?
While the description of Snapchat does say that they will “let you know if (your friend) takes a screenshot,” how are most teens likely to respond? What are they going to do about it? Once the picture is out there, it’s out there.
So, how popular is it?
As of this writing on December 7, 2012, Snapchat is listed as the #2 free photography app for iPhones just behind the YouTube app. Believe it or not, it’s ahead of Instagram! So, if you think, your teens don’t use it, the reality is, they probably do, although they may not necessarily use it inappropriately.
What can you do as a youth minister?
As a youth minister, you are a mentor and a role model to young people. Continue to pray and model the faith for them, but be sure to educate them on things like this as well. Help them to understand the potential dangers of apps like this, and equally as important, help them to understand how to use technology to glorify God. I’m sure that even Snapchat, if used in a holy way, can do that.
Also be sure to keep parents informed about things like Snapchat. In many circumstances, you are the bridge between parents and trends in youth culture. The more they know, the better they can parent.
Do you need to sound the alarm?
As a youth minister, it can be tempting to hear something like this and immediately denounce it. I remember the first time I heard of Myspace, I condemned my teens for using it.
I was wrong.
Things like Snapchat are a big part of a teenager’s world. As youth ministers, the idea is not to denounce these things but to educate teens on proper usage and potential dangers.
Above all continue to keep yourself informed of new technologies and be willing to address them with your teens. It’s not always comfortable, but it’s not supposed to be. And if it could save a teen from making a poor, life-altering, and irreversible decision, it’s worth a little discomfort.
Question: What other apps/website do you know of that are popular with teens? (Share below.)