When I was 14, my friends and I developed a secret code for our note passing. We each had our own symbol so nobody’s name was revealed if our messages were intercepted by teachers or parents.
I was an arrow. Another girl was a star. Another was a heart. In all, there were about 12 of us, which led to some pretty confusing – but fun – communications.
I don’t remember writing anything outrageous or racy or hurtful. But for some reason, it was important for us to maintain our privacy and share our thoughts only within our small circle.
I thought about that old clandestine note system this week when I read about the increasing popularity of Snapchat, which is mainly how both of my teenage daughters communicate with their friends nowadays.
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I’m sure you’ve heard about the photo messaging app, and I doubt that much of it has been good. Anything dubbed the “sexting app” reeks of danger, right?
The conventional wisdom is that because Snapchat enables people to exchange messages that self-destruct seconds after they’re viewed, it encourages inappropriate message sharing. With an estimated 82 million users, most between ages 13 and 25, sending 700 million photos and videos per day, that’s a lot of naked photos getting passed around.
Two separate surveys are now reporting that the majority of Snapchat users are primarily sending funny content, cute photos and selfies. In other words, silly trumps sexy. Kitties win out over … well, you get it.
I’ve witnessed this in action when I’ve caught my daughters grimacing or grinning for a wacky selfie before shooting it off to a friend or two via Snapchat.
Now that we’re through the trial-and-error years of middle school, I’m fairly confident that my kids are well-versed on the dangers of being too provocative online and on their smart phones. I still have my share of anxiety attacks and we continue to discuss what’s appropriate and what’s not, but I’ve lengthened the leash considerably. That includes allowing Snapchat on their phones.
Like private notes, a whispered phone conversation in the closet or a diary, there are some aspects of my teenagers’ lives that should remain just that – strictly part of their lives.
I wrestle every day with the notion that I no longer need to know every detail of what’s going on with my kids. As painful and scary as it is to let go, I feel that it’s important that they have some of their own space to explore and grow, even if that space is virtual and tethered to a smart phone.
Plus, our kids are smarter than we think.
Tech trend watchers say that Snapchat is favored by young folks because it allows them to share privately in smaller circles than Facebook and there’s less pressure to create an idealized online identity.
Private, goofy and honest. Who can object to that?