Avast Academy Privacy Browser What Is Snapchat, How Does It Work, and Is It Safe for Kids?

What Is Snapchat, How Does It Work, and Is It Safe for Kids?

With children spending so much time online, it’s understandable that parents might worry about the safety of Snapchat and other popular social media apps. Keep reading to see our rundown of Snapchat safety features, how to use Snapchat parental controls, and some of the potential risks associated with using the app. Then, install a powerful security app with easy-to-use safety features to help protect your family online.

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Written by Samuel Kellett
Updated on April 20, 2024
Reviewed by Mike Polacko

What is Snapchat?

Snapchat is a popular instant messaging service and social media app that lets you quickly send personalized texts, videos, or pictures (called snaps), which disappear after the receiver views them. The fleeting nature of snaps can make communicating on the app feel more secure and personalized, and the creative filters and lenses available make them fun and interesting for younger users. Snapchat also offers standard voice and video calls.

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This Article Contains:

    Snapchat has continuously rolled out new features to compete with other social apps, including a location-sharing service called Snap Map. But  with these changes come potential new risks. Our updated Snapchat parent guide will shed light on the features and capabilities Snapchat offers along with available security measures you can use to help safeguard your young ones.

    How does Snapchat work?

    Snapchat works by sending temporary photos and videos, known as “snaps,” to your contacts. After a snap is viewed, it disappears from both the receiver’s phone and Snapchat’s servers. To prepare a snap on Snapchat, press the shutter button to take a picture or hold it down to take a video. Then, add a filter, write text, draw, add stickers, or other custom options before sending. Normal texting between users is also possible.

    Snap senders set a snap timer, normally from 1 to 10 seconds, but there’s also an “infinite seconds” option. After the snap timer expires (or the snap is closed in the infinite case), the snap disappears — technically. But, recipients can easily screenshot a snap or use third-party software to capture it. Snap senders are notified when the receiver takes a screenshot of their snap.

    Snapchat reserves the right to keep the snap if they want to. And even though direct messages are encrypted, Snapchat appears to offer no guarantee against third-parties intercepting snaps. And although the snaps themselves are removed from Snapchat servers, the company does keep some metadata about the date, time, sender, and receiver.

    To sign up for Snapchat, install the app on your phone, input your birthday, and verify your account with an email and phone number. After signing up for Snapchat, you can add contacts by syncing your phone contacts, inputting a username, or scanning a QR code. Snapchat allows anyone 13 and older to sign up and send snaps to anyone in their contacts.

    If you’re over 18, you can also receive snaps from people not in your contacts on Snapchat. Since age verification is notoriously difficult online, users who lie about their age can be contacted by any other user.

    Is Snapchat safe for kids?

    Snapchat itself is safe for kids, but it’s recommended that you educate them on how to use it safely or use the built-in parental controls. And it’s important to note that the secretive nature of Snapchat’s disappearing messages can make the environment ripe for inappropriate and even dangerous messaging.

    Snapchat parental controls were introduced in August 2022 to allow parental supervision of teen accounts, and further safeguards were introduced in September 2023 to make the app more suitable for young teens.

    The pros of Snapchat safety features

    Here are some of Snapchat’s built-in safety features:

    • Parents can link their teen’s phone to their own via Family Center.

    • Parents can view their teen’s recent chats and contacts.

    • Parents can check recently added contacts.

    • Parents can see members of their teen’s group chats.

    • Snapchat restricts certain content in “Stories” and “Spotlight” (public posts).

    • Teens can report accounts to the Snapchat Trust and Safety team.

    • Teens get in-app warnings when a contact without mutual friends tries to add them.

    • Snapchat removes age-inappropriate content on public posts.

    The cons of Snapchat safety features

    Here are some of the downsides or holes in Snapchat safety and parental controls:

    • Parents can’t see message contents.

    • Contacts are hidden seven days after being added.

    • Teens often have hundreds of contacts, making visibility difficult.

    • Teens can easily make a secondary account.

    • Accounts only show Snapchat usernames, not real names.

    You can view Snapchat’s Family Center safeguards and Snapchat’s 2023 safeguards to learn more.

    All social media apps have risks of cyberbullying, harassment, or predation, and Snapchat is no exception, especially with its disappearing messages and younger user base. From romance scammers trying to extort victims by asking for “secret” snaps to fraudsters using AI and social media content to create deepfakes, there are always risks and dangers to look out for.

    How old do you have to be to get Snapchat?

    The official Snapchat age rating is 13+. The age for Snapchat features such as viewing non-followers, adding users not in your contacts, or attaching payments is 18+.

    And while the official Snapchat minimum age is 13, in reality many users younger than 13 lie about their age to get around age restrictions and use social media apps. Snapchat may not be the best app for 11- or 12-year-olds, but the age requirement is similar to other social media apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook.

    Does Snapchat’s age requirement of 13 mean that the platform is safe for 13-year-olds? Not necessarily — it means companies just can’t legally collect data about users under the age of 13, according to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule in the US.

    There is much debate over the age children should be allowed to use Snapchat (or any social media app). But notwithstanding current legislation in some jurisdictions, ultimately it’s up to parents to decide if their child is old enough. Learning more about the risks of social media and what a typical teenager on Snapchat experiences on a daily basis can help inform the boundaries parents set.

    Snapchat features and risks

    Snapchat can be a good app for teens who want to be creative while chatting with their friends privately, but the privacy and connectivity are also what make the app potentially risky. Disappearing messages allow for inappropriate chats that can’t be monitored. Kids might also assume their messages always disappear, without understanding that recipients can take screenshots and the company can keep certain types of data.

    Some features are fairly innocuous but may be concerning to some parents, like Snapchat Discover, which by allowing content from news organizations, celebrities, and influencers might introduce kids to inappropriate content. Though it’s increasingly difficult to moderate all content on a platform, Snapchat has worked to maintain the quality of Discover and ensure it’s free of fake news.

    Other features might give parents more pause, like the Snap Map where teens can share their location (at the risk of cyberstalking).

    Of course, there are many issues to consider when thinking about how to keep your family safe online. While using social media gives rise to certain risks like too much screen time, there are also many reasons to let kids use the app. Not only can they use it to express themselves in spaces that are typically more private than other social media apps, but they can also connect with like-minded peers and communities.

    Here are some of the most popular features on Snapchat. Learn more to help decide if Snapchat is safe for your kid:

    Snap Map

    Snap Map lets people share their geolocation with friends on a real map that can be used to find them. Turning on “Live Location” updates the location indefinitely, even if you don’t open Snapchat, letting friends know each other’s location at all times.

    While this is useful for meeting friends, the location sharing is very precise — and can even include the street or building. Snap Map’s Live Location sharing is one of the main reasons why Snapchat could be dangerous.

    Snapchat also offers “Ghost Mode,” which prohibits location sharing. After turning off Ghost Mode, users can choose which friends can see their location:

    Choosing who can see your location in Snapchat when turning off Ghost Mode

    Snapchat friends can then view locations in real time:

    Snapchat's Snap Map

    Since this location can be shared as a public Snapchat story, it can go beyond just friends, which may expose a teen on Snapchat to inappropriate and malicious users.

    Beyond using Snapchat security measures like parental control apps and Snapchat’s user settings, parents should discuss Snap Map with their kids and teach them to be careful about sharing their location online.


    Snapchat Discover is a news feed that allows users to view the “Stories” of friends, public figures, influencers, brands, and news or entertainment organizations. Stories are short videos or pictures of custom content.

    Snapchat's Discover screen

    While Snapchat Discover can be an informative source of news, it can also open up rabbit holes you might not want your kid to go down. Of course, Snapchat has moderation rules and has worked hard in the past to tighten content guidelines, but inappropriate content can still surface.


    A Snapchat Story is a compilation of text, photo, or video posts that’s shared to more than just one contact. A Story offers a visual journal of a friend’s experience that’s viewable in the order each post is uploaded, and it lasts for 24 hours. Snapchat users 18+ can have a public Story and anyone viewing a profile can see active public Stories.

    Recently, Snapchat introduced After Dark Stories, which can only be posted between 8:00 pm and 5:00 am — further increasing the incentive to post risqué or suggestive material. Public Stories, especially After Dark Stores, can expose kids to age-inappropriate content if they’re not careful.

    Our Stories

    Our Stories merges stories from different Snapchatters at a single event together to give a broader view. Snapchat also curates Our Stories for large media organizations such as Cosmopolitan, which can target certain demographics of impressionable teens.

    Publisher Stories

    Publisher Stories let brands and websites advertise on Snapchat — promoting product launches, relevant articles, and news stories to put the brand in direct communication with its audience. Publisher Stories expose kids to powerful forms of advertising and can help companies build a profile of teens for future ad tracking.

    Snap Originals

    Snap Originals are professional series produced exclusively for Snapchat. They consist of multiple five-minute long episodes organized into seasons that range across genres, and sometimes feature celebrities and influencers.

    An example of episodes on the Snap Originals screen.


    Spotlight is Snapchat’s answer to TikTok and Instagram Reels. Users 18+ can post vertical video content up to 60 seconds, which lasts 24 hours and is shared with other users. Spotlights reward virality — the more interactions and views Spotlights get, the more money creators can make.

    A video in Snapchat's Spotlight

    Spotlight’s financial incentive could motivate younger users to lie about their age in hopes of becoming a viral sensation. Viral content can be innocuous, but the desire to go viral might also lead kids to make poor decisions for the sake of attention.


    Snapstreaks keep track of how many days in a row you’ve snapped with a particular friend. Snapstreaks encourage continuous engagement and add an element of competition, driving kids to use the app regularly.

    Snapstreaks have successfully gamified conversations on Snapchat, using a bit of social engineering to keep users engaged. Snapstreaks were even mentioned in an academic paper discussing problematic smartphone use, with researchers noting that some users even give their friends their account information to keep a streak going if they can’t send the message.

    Chat (messaging)

    Snapchat’s Chat feature allows direct messaging with friends. In addition to normal text messages, you can video chat, share a snap, play games, send photos, share locations, or send a Bitmoji — a custom avatar. Messages are deleted by default after viewing, or they can be set to delete after 24 hours. Unlike Snaps, Snapchat chat messages can be saved.

    Filters and lenses

    What’s the point of Snapchat when you can just send regular photos or texts? The answer for Snapchat’s user base is the filters and lenses.

    A Snapchat filter is a layer over a photo that adds different colorations, text, and images (such as sunglasses, hats, or horns) on top of the original. Filters can augment your facial structure, skin tone, body shape, and other parts of your physical appearance.

    An activated Snapchat filter

    Snapchat lenses use Augmented Reality (AR) to add backgrounds or items to your image or video for more extreme transformations. Some popular Snapchat lenses include those that age the user, turn them into animals, and more.

    Snapchat's Face lenses screen

    Snapchat lenses and filters can be silly, but more subtle filters that augment weight, eye shape, or similar small changes can exacerbate body image issues. The term Snapchat dysmorphia was even coined by a surgeon who kept encountering patients requesting plastic surgery to match their digital counterparts.

    Snap Tokens

    Snap Tokens are in-app currency for microtransactions to use in Snapchat games or for digital goods and gifts. Snap Token gifts generate “crystals” for content creators, which convert into real cash.

    Snapchat's My Tokens screen

    Snapchat Tokens may motivate teens to connect with creators by spending money on them, potentially paving the way for parasocial bonds. Snapchat games tie rewards and unlocks to Snapchat Tokens, ideally keeping users connected to the app for as long as possible.


    Snapchat has both single-player and multiplayer games. Your kids can challenge their friends to anything from Scrabble-like word games to shooters similar to Fortnite — and spend their Snapchat Tokens. Games can launch from chat, keeping engagement constant.

    Snapchat games are just one more way the app monetizes user attention and keeps gamers glued to the platform.


    Cameos is a new Snapchat feature that uses deepfake technology to capture your teen’s image and apply it to a video or GIF, which can then be used in a snap or Story.

    Snapchat's Cameos screen

    My AI

    My AI is an Artificial Intelligence chatbot for Snapchat that can be asked questions, chatted with, competed with in games, and more. My AI is powered by Chat GPT and provides an all-purpose AI assistant for young teens.

    My AI came under scrutiny in March of 2023 when it offered troubling advice to an AI ethics researcher who falsely signed up as a 13-year-old girl. My AI targets teens and can sometimes recommend dangerous or illegal activities.

    So, is the Snapchat AI safe? It depends. The power of AI and what it can do is unclear, as is what it learns about those it interacts with or how it affects young minds. But you can clear your child’s interaction with My AI or disable it through Family Center.

    Here’s how to clear chat interaction with My AI in Snapchat:

    1. Open Snapchat and tap your profile icon, then tap Settings (the gear icon).

      Snapchat's main screen and profile view.
    2. Scroll to the Account Actions section, tap Clear My AI Data, then tap Confirm.

      Account Actions section of Snapchat settings, where you can clear AI data saved in the My AI feature.

    You can also disable My AI completely for your teen. After setting up Family Center, find My AI under Recent Conversations and toggle My AI off. My AI will no longer be able to interact directly with your teen.

    How can parents monitor Snapchat?

    Parents can monitor a child’s Snapchat through Snapchat’s Family Center. After setting up Snapchat parental controls in Family Center, parents can change privacy settings in their child’s Snapchat app to block strangers from contacting them, hide their child from being recommended to others, hide their child’s location, and protect their child’s phone number in the app.

    Snapchat introduced Family Center specifically to address Snapchat safety concerns, and similar to setting parental controls on Android, Snapchat’s Family Center makes Snapchat monitoring for parents easier by linking the child’s and parent’s phones. Parental controls on Snapchat are limited, but they can help monitor inappropriate Snapchat use and restrict sensitive content.

    Snapchat aims to balance teen privacy and parent supervision, so it only allows you to see who your child is talking with, not what they’re talking about.

    Here’s how to register for Family Center and gain parental supervision over your child’s Snapchat account:

    1. Download the latest version of Snapchat and register.

    2. Add your teen as a friend (search for their username).

    3. Open Family Center in Snapchat settings.

    4. Follow the setup process.

    5. On the invitation screen, either search for your teen’s username or select your child from your contacts to invite them.

    6. Tap Send Invitation.

    Invitations will appear as Chat messages in your teen’s Snapchat app. They must accept the invitation to link their phone to yours, then grant you parental supervision. You can then start reviewing your child’s activity.

    If you’re wondering how to see your child’s Snaps, there is currently no way to review actual message content. Snapchat aims to balance teen privacy and parent supervision, so it only allows you to see who your child is talking with, not what they’re talking about.

    Block strangers from contacting your child

    Your kids can turn the Snapchat privacy settings back off, so it’s important to talk with your teen about the risks of social media and how to stay safer on Snapchat.

    Here’s how to make sure no one but your child’s friends can contact them:

    1. Open Snapchat and tap your profile icon, then tap Settings (the gear icon).

      Snapchat's main screen and profile view.
    2. Scroll to the Privacy Control section, tap Contact Me, then select Friends.

       Opening Privacy Control Settings on Snapchat to block strangers from contacting your child.
    3. Tap Okay to confirm.

      Confirmation screen to turn off ability for contacts to show up in Snapchat's Chat tab

    Make sure your child isn’t recommended to strangers

    Quick Add is a setting that recommends friends to Snapchat users. Here’s how to make sure no other user sees a recommendation to add your child as a friend:

    1. Open Snapchat and tap your profile icon, then tap Settings (the gear icon).

    2. Scroll to the Privacy Control section, tap See Me in Quick Add. Uncheck Show me in Quick Add. The box will now be empty, meaning Quick Add is off.

      Opening Privacy Control settings in Snapchat to disable the setting that allows users to add your child.

    Hide your child’s location

    Here’s how to make sure no one (not even friends) can see your child’s location:

    1. Open Snapchat and tap your profile icon, then tap Settings (the gear icon).

    2. Scroll to Privacy Control and tap See My Location. Toggle on Ghost Mode.

      Changing your child's Snapchat location to "Ghost Mode" to hide their location indefinitely.
    3. Tap Until Turned Off. Your teen’s location will now stay hidden.

      Enabling the "Ghost Mode" feature on Snapchat until it's manually turned off.

    Protect your child’s phone number

    Here’s how to make sure no one can use your child’s phone number to find their profile:

    1. Open Snapchat and tap your profile icon, then tap Settings (the gear icon).

    2. Under My Account, tap Mobile Number. Uncheck Let others find me using my mobile number.

       Snapchat's My Account settings

    The box will now be empty, and people can no longer find your teen’s profile through their phone number.

    Privacy settings are how parents can monitor Snapchat, but what about the rest of the internet? Learn how to configure your child’s devices for increased safety beyond Snapchat:

    Should I let my kid get Snapchat?

    You should let your kid get Snapchat if you feel they’re responsible about online privacy and safety. While using Snapchat inappropriately can invite risks or lead to dangerous encounters, there are also plenty of reasons to let your kid get Snapchat, such as not feeling excluded from their social group and learning social media responsibility.

    Whatever you decide, it’s important to establish healthy and open communication about internet safety. Talk to your child about your concerns, the potential dangers of Snapchat, and broader issues around social media and the internet to improve their digital literacy. Check out the short list of pros and cons below to get you started.

    Potential benefits of Snapchat:

    • Connection: Snapchat is a popular social media app, and chances are the majority of your child’s social group uses it. Snapchat is a good way for your child to stay connected.

    • Creativity: Snapchat lets teens express themselves in many ways, offering both an emotional outlet and a platform for developing and communicating ideas. It’s a great way for shy kids to break out of their shells.

    • Fun: Snapchat is enjoyable, which can be a great way to de-stress and let off some steam. Kids have a lot on their plate, so it’s good to have a safe place to let loose.

    • Privacy: Snapchat’s disappearing messages may cause concern for parents, but the privacy of the app offers kids much-needed personal space and an area to confide in trusted friends.

    Potential downsides of Snapchat:

    • Inappropriate content: Disappearing messages can encourage Snapchat kids to test the limits. Without the deterrent of getting caught by a teacher or parent, sexting, bullying, graphic images, and more are possible.

    • Pressure: Teens on Snapchat feel social pressure to get views for their Stories, keep up their Snapstreaks, stay connected to the latest gossip, make an impression, and more.

    • Unrealistic standards: Snapchat’s filters and lenses, and the constant stream of beautiful and interesting influencers, can create a distorted self-image or worldview that is impossible to live up to.

    • Physical danger: Features like Snap Map and open contact requests can lead to physical danger. Snapchat casts a wide net of contacts, and it’s hard to know who’s watching.

    • Addiction and disconnection: Modern technology is hard to resist, especially for developing minds. And while the effects of social media use on mental health are complex, being perpetually online and bombarded with news and events via social media can certainly take a toll. One study of young American teens found a correlation between those who used social media more than three hours a day and negative mental health outcomes like depression and anxiety.

    Teens and pre-teens should know the basics of how to stay safer on social media, such as practicing proper netiquette. Whether you’re wondering if Snapchat is safe for 14-year-olds, if you should let your 13-year-old have Snapchat, or if you have kids well under 13 that are curious too, the safety guidelines below can offer some insight.

    How to be safer on Snapchat

    Show your kids these simple rules for how to be safer on Snapchat:

    • Use your real age when signing up: Using a fake age can not only expose teens to more mature content, it can also expose them to predation and expand their contacts to inappropriate social groups they may not be ready for.

    • Be wary of new contacts: Snapchat has its fair share of scammers and cybercriminals, but there might be people your child may know in real life that mean them harm. Vet new contacts as much as possible, and don’t be afraid to block people.

    • Report unsuitable content: Unsuitable content will inevitably show up on your teen’s feed. Reporting unsuitable content helps Snapchat react to content that violates their guidelines and demonstrates your teen’s responsibility for their own digital diet.

    • Use Snapchat privacy settings: Hiding location, restricting who can add your teen, and limiting who can contact them can ensure Snapchat is being used for what it’s really valuable for: self-expression and staying connected with friends and loved ones.

    • Don’t overshare: Your teen should be careful not only who they share with, but also what they’re inadvertently sharing, such as their home address, personal ID numbers, passwords, and more. Kids should also be careful not to share other people’s info, so as not to accidentally dox their friends.

    Check out Snapchat's Community Guidelines to learn more.

    Keep your kids safe online with Avast

    Even parents who trust their children completely want to make sure they’re safe. That’s why it’s so important to openly discuss with kids the potential dangers of social media. But there are still dangers that kids can be exposed to online. And that’s where automated security software can help.

    Avast One is an all-in-one security solution that helps keep your family safer online by protecting against hacking attacks, malware, unsafe links, and more. Plus, it comes with a suite of privacy features, like a built-in VPN to help secure your network connection.

    Get comprehensive security and privacy for your phone with Avast One


    Get comprehensive security and privacy for your iPhone with Avast One

    Samuel Kellett