A few months ago, the mother of a teenager approached me with a question about her daughter’s Snapchat activity.
“What in the world are they ‘Snapchatting’ about?”
The question was funny to me for a few reasons.
First, her question came at the end of social media talk I was delivering to a small group of senior citizens (most senior citizens don’t use Snapchat, but it would be cool if they did). The mother worked at the community center, and sat in with the seniors, eager to learn more about the basics.
She wanted to learn more about how to use social media, maybe to connect more with her daughter, but definitely to learn more about what her daughter was doing on Snapchat.
Second, I actually LOLed (laughed out loud) when she asked. But she wasn’t joking. Quite the opposite, she was very serious.
Snapchat, the photo and video sharing service, is a must-have app for teens with smartphones.
Users send “Snaps” for all followers to see, or identify specific recipients from a list of friends, setting a time limit (usually 10 seconds) for how long those Snaps will be viewable.
Snapchat doesn’t reveal usage statistics. But according to a study conducted by The Wall Street Journal, Snapchat had more than 100 million active users in early 2015.
My first response to the mom was, “Why don’t you ask her what she Snapping about?” To which she responded, “I don’t want her to think I don’t trust her.”
Of course, this opened the door to questions about privacy and trust and, well, teenagers. That’s a topic for another column. But it did lead us to an interesting study about the content of teen Snaps.
In the January issue of Computers in Human Behavior, Lukasz Piwek and Adam Joinson, researchers at the University of the West of England’s Centre for the Study of Behaviour Change and Influence, explored the use of Snapchat among teens.
The premise of the study was pretty simple. Piwek and Joinson asked Snapchat users about the details of the last image or video each participant sent and received via Snapchat.
As you might expect, more than half of the teens reported sharing and receiving selfies, usually with some text and doodles over the photos. They also reported sharing and receiving images of screenshots, food, other people and animals.
For the most part, teens said they were “at home” when using Snapchat.
Piwek and Joinson also found that teens are using Snapchat to connect with close friends and family. They claim it is “easier” and “funnier” than other instant messaging services such as Facebook messenger or texting.
Teens in this study also said they were using Snapchat to bond rather than build networks. In other words, teens are using Snapchat to feel more connected with others rather than expand their social capital.
Although this study confirms what we think we know about teens and Snapchat, parents still need to be vigilant.
Mom won’t know for sure what her daughter is sharing without asking and, when necessary, snooping.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.