“I just don’t know what to do.” Ansley said, sitting her coffee down forcefully on the table between us so she could express herself with both hands. “Breaking up with him was hard enough, but I know it was the right thing to do. But now he wants to keep our Snapchat streak and it’s just really hard for me to keep talking to him everyday.”
“Yeah,” I responded. “Boundaries after you break up are so important but so hard to define. What did you say when he said he wanted to keep the streak?”
“I mean” She looked down. “I told him I would. I didn’t know what else to say, okay? But now,” she paused trying not to let herself get choked up. “Now, he will Snap me or like anything I post on Instagram but will not even look at me at school. I just don’t get how to act around him.”
I paused to let her feel what she was feeling. “That’s so hard, Ansley. Sounds like some really mixed signals.”
“Oh, so mixed! And then he posted on his story that he was hanging out with another girl but he’s mad at me if I don’t respond to keep our streak up in time.” Her emotions kept building and I kept quieting my tone, hoping she would catch the hint that many around us in the coffee shop in our very small town could hear.
“What have your parents said?” I asked, as every mentor, girls ministry book, and training had coached me. I have been Ansley’s small group leader for many years and know her parents well from many conversations on the sidelines of her games.
“My parents?!” She was not catching my hint to lower her volume. “you should have heard them when I was upset about things ending with Drew. I was upset because he ended our streak and in like 2 days I wasn’t even his best friend anymore. I tried to talk to my mom about it and she and my dad just kept making jokes about it. They have no clue. Like when they were teenagers maybe guys would actually talk! Like she knows I broke up with him and everything, but she just doesn’t care and I just don’t know what to do.”
As a small group leader to 11th grade girls, these are conversations I have often. Whether over breakfast, coffee, or smoothies, when you ask middle and high school girls about their world it will include school, family, and sports, but you are not truly in their world until it includes Snapchat and Instagram.
What is Snapchat? Snapchat is an app in which users take photos or videos and send them to their friends or post them on their story. Photos drive Snapchat communication. Most interchanges are a photo sent back and forth, rather than text communication. The icon for the app is a ghost, because Snapchat photos disappearing after less than 10 seconds.
Snapchat provides everything Millennials and Generation Z are craving. They have an attention span of about 5-30 seconds to new information, prefer visuals to text, and are craving connection. Snapchat has continued to improve and increase engagement by adding the “story” feature. Users select each person they send a photo or video to, but when posting to your story any of your friends can see what you post and users can look at who has watched their story.
Is Snapchat the enemy? No.
Like any other form of media, Snapchat is value neutral. Its use determines its value. Many student ministry personnel have adopted Snapchat features to interact with students and advertise events for their ministry, but when parents do not adopt and familiarize themselves with Snapchat many risks arise.
- If you are not familiar with Snapchat, you are not familiar with their world.
When Ansley’s parents dismissed her emotions because they were based on Snapchat, Ansley felt dismissed as a whole. Parents and student ministers serve as the first line of contact when students are walking through difficult things and sometimes those difficult things will be based on Snapchat. Don’t dismiss it. Listen, care, and use Snapchat to teach them self-confidence, emotional intelligence, and healthy friendships.
Snapchat carries a great risk for pornography. Pictures go away after just a few seconds, so often students minimize the risk in sending a photo in light of its short exposure. There is a great risk that students are sending “nudes” (a key word you need to know). “Nudes” are photos exchanged without clothing. Boyfriends asking girlfriends for nudes is extremely normalized and a normal part of a dating relationship for middle school and high school students. Snapchat furthermore offers a feature where you can link your credit card and exchange money. Many assumed this feature was solely for the purpose of pornography exchanges, while Snapchat may have solely been extending its services to match money exchanging apps like Venmo or PayPal.
Remember, the icon is a ghost because everything disappears. What happens in Snapchat, stays in Snapchat, or so it seems to students. If you are a parent who checks their texts every night, know the majority of their conversations are most likely taking place on the chat feature of Snapchat and they have disappeared.
- Taking yourself less seriously.
While Instagram has become the primary way to keep your perfect brand in tact, Snapchat is a place to let your guard down. Students often exchange selfies of how gross they look after practice, waking up with make up running down their face, or with a dog filter sticking their tongue out. In every way Instagram promotes perfectionism and unreal expectations, Snapchat is real and raw and students love it. Instagram is polished with the perfect filter and caption, but Snapchat is a quick shot of the funny thing your mom is doing. I personally feel Snapchat helps kids keep being kids by focusing less on their brand and more on just interacting with their friends.
2. More frequent interaction.
This generation of students is visually driven. They prefer photos to texting. Anyone who works with young people can greatly benefit. A student texting to describe their day will feel exhausting to them, but if they can just Snapchat you a picture, you will receive multiple Snapchats a day.
Snapchat is not the enemy, and it also cannot be dismissed as just a silly thing kids are using. It’s important for parents and youth workers to maintain the relevance of their role in student’s lives they should know the risks, benefits, and uses of Snapchat.
Youth Workers + volunteers: create a Snapchat to interact with your kids. Look at their stories. Speak the language. And when your children are frustrated about losing a Snapchat streak or their best friends moving around, understand this is really significant in their life. When you understand Snapchat, you are prepared to understand and care when students let you into their world.
Used With Permission From Emily Katherine Dalton