SnapChat and the Ostrich Parent

Posted on: 09/5/13 3:27 AM | by Jonathan McKee

You’d think the recent news about SnapChat would be enough to finally convince parents to step in and hit the DELETE button, right?

So why is it 74 percent of parents are simply sticking their heads in the sand and just “hoping for the best”?

Most of us already knew this popular mobile app SnapChat was dangerous for young people. If you read my warnings about the app long ago, then you realized it was not only a convenient little tool for sexting, but it also provided teenagers with a false sense of “lack of accountability.” The pictures “vanish”… don’t they?

A recent lawsuit amongst the SnapChat creators has revealed even scarier facts about this social media tool. The creators (who turned out to be rather creepy) confirmed inventing the app uniquely for sexting. And the status of these “vanishing” pictures is questionable. They say they delete the images right away, but there’s more and more evidence that they don’t.

I wonder if that makes “Emily” think twice about snapping that revealing selfie and sending it to her boyfriend?

My friend Adam McLane brought this to my attention a few weeks ago (the two of us bantered a little bit about it on Twitter), and stirred up quite a dust storm with his sobering post, Why You Should Delete Snapchat. Adam resolved, “I’ve never seen a more dangerous application targeting teenagers, specifically girls, than SnapChat.”

Are parents listening to this advice?

The majority of parents I’ve been talking with about this sound like the parents internet security company McAfee surveyed this summer. In this study the bulk of parents claim to have had conversations about online safety (71%), but only a minority of kids confirm this to be true (44%). Adam and I frequently encounter these parents at our parent workshops. They convince themselves their kids are safe. I call these Ostrich parents, with their heads in the sand.

Do these parents forget what they were like when they were teenagers? Do they remember their own capacity to sneak? Today’s kids probably aren’t very different. 69% of the young people surveyed admitted they take measures to hide their online behavior from their parents.

I’m sure these parents would do something if they only knew… right?

Sadly, the same study revealed 74% of parents said, “they don’t have the time or energy to keep up with everything their kids are doing, are overwhelmed by modern technology, and just hope for the best.”

Hope for the best?

Really? That’s all we got?

Decide… or Let Them Decide?
As a parent of a high school girl and two kids in college, I understand it’s not easy being a parent. That’s why so many parents turn to blogs or websites like for free resources and advice.

Last month was interesting for parents navigating the blogosphere for advice. I posted a blog unveiling an “experiment” I tried with my oldest daughter, Alyssa, where I removed all rules by age 17½. Alyssa turned 18 and can now legally do whatever she wants. (Not much of a landmark in my house. She’s been thinking on her own for a long time now.)

Then Adam dropped the bomb with his blog post, Why You Should Delete Snapchat, concluding, “I’ve never seen a more dangerous application targeting teenagers.”

I felt sorry for parents seeking advice from both Adam and me that week. Basically, you would have heard, “Let your daughter begin making choices for herself. Oh… and that includes whether or not she wants to keep the most dangerous social media app ever invented for teens!”

So what should parents do?

It’s funny, my advice varies for different parents. In the church, I often encounter that overprotective parent who makes all the decisions for their kids. My gut-response to that parent is to encourage them to move towards having more conversations (two way conversations, not lectures), teach discernment (by letting them practice making decisions while under our shadow) and move towards letting them make some of these decisions as they approach age 17.

As my friend Doug Fields and I laid out in our book, Should I Just Smash My Kid’s Phone?, parenting begins with high guidance, and slowly segues towards low guidance. When our kids are young, they need lots of guidance and guardrails, but as they grow and mature, they need to learn how to begin making decisions for themselves. After all, at age 18, they can pack their belongings, move out, join the army, and do whatever they want (interesting timing—both Doug and I each dropped off a daughter at their colleges on Labor Day weekend). Are you preparing your kids for that day where they’ll be making choices on their own? Or are you just making all their decisions for them?

The day Adam released his SnapChat post, I did two things:

  1. I gave the article to each of my daughters and we had an interesting conversation about it over dinner.
  2. I actually wrote out a blog post encouraging parents to let their older kids make the decision about SnapChat. But I didn’t ever post it.

I spent about 5 hours writing the post and sent it to 4 people for feedback… and they loved it. But when I let Adam read it, he asked me one tiny question that made me stop short. I couldn’t shake it—it plagued my thinking. He read my article and simply asked, “Do you think this gives parents an out?”

An out! I couldn’t get Adam’s pushback out of my head. I run into so many overprotective parents, I originally thought the post needed to be heard.

But then I reflected and considered the majority of parents. The 72 percent of parents who are just “hoping for the best”… who might misread my post about teaching their kids discernment and just hear, “let your kid decide.”

I deleted the post.

We need to pull our head out of the sand and begin having more conversations about some of these important decisions our teens and tweens are facing daily.

Today, for many parents, the conversation probably should start with SnapChat.


4 Replies to “SnapChat and the Ostrich Parent”

  1. Interesting article. My girls have snapchat, and mostly take snaps of their hand over their face, lol. But I do understand the danger of the app, and my daughters were actually aware before I was that it was written to be a sexting app.

    My question would be, why all the “especially for girls” phrases? If it’s dangerous, it’s dangerous. Period. If guys can request racy pics, so can girls. If girls can send racy pics, so can guys. Why should the article delineate between the two?

    1. You are correct in that both genders are vulnerable. I just think that most people agree this app is marketed a little more towards the girl. If not, then they accidentally succeeded in marketing it so… because way more girls have this app than guys. And, girls always seem to be the ones who get suckered into sending naked pics. Their pics are the ones that get passed around. They are the ones who have to live with those consequences. It’s unfair, but it’s a reality. So that’s probably why people say it’s especially dangerous for girls.

  2. I am close to being that overbearing parent, and I’m okay with that. I let my young teenage boy make decisions early on when he got his phone. But I checked early and often and I found that the flood of social media put his hormones on overload. While he never sent any inappropriate photos, he had plenty sent to him via snap chat. It’s gone now as is Kik and Facebook. He can still text and can still Instagram and tweet. But his Dad and I monitor it. The reality is that teenage suicides are on the rise and I think it is due to social media. There is no room for mistakes anymore. The first place a college recruiter goes is the Internet. How do I keep my boy chaste and safe in today’s world? I don’t really know but I do know I am not going to let the world raise my boy.

  3. Most parents, even the overprotective ones, are looking for an out. The hyper tiger moms and overbearing past their prime jock dads push activities and image…they all but ignore character. I have seen very few who are actually concerned about who their kids are as to what they do.

    My wife and I battle family, “friends” and school for being too strict. Everything we do in discipline goes back to character and scripture. We try to explain how it is God expects His people to live and that bad character developed young, doesn’t easily change when your older.

    My kids are about the only ones w/o cell phones, facebook, snapchat…my oldest is in grade 7!!! It took my wife about 5 seconds to discern that snapchat was bad idea, especially for kids in an oversexed, persmissive culture.

    Keep up the good work

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