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The new SnapChat feature called Snap Maps has parents everywhere in a tizzy. The frantic ‘delete the app’ posts have all the teenagers laughing at us dinosaurs by the way. Because here’s the thing – if you have instituted just two important safety rules and frequently check in with your kids to ensure they are following them, this feature should not worry you one bit.

This is my #1 rule for social media:

Only ‘friend’ your real-life friends! These are people you have actually seen and talked to in person on a regular basis. They are called friends, not acquaintances.

They aren’t celebs.

They aren’t your friend-in-real-life’s cousin.

They aren’t that girl ‘everybody’ knows from a nearby school.

They aren’t that boy in your Algebra class that asked to borrow a pencil once.

They aren’t your friend’s parents (unless they are a good family friend).

Now I know that children (and adults) are sometimes tricked into friending someone that is pretending to be someone else but teach your kids about how to spot it, and it is pretty simple to catch most of the time. If there is even one shred of doubt, simply don’t friend that person. Teach them to NEVER worry about ‘feeling mean’ if they delete a request. It isn’t that hard! I promise my MIL understood when I marked her Facebook friend request as spam and posted on her wall that it was a fake account when she forgot the password to her original account and tried to friend me again from a new one.

And here is the #2 social media rule for kids:

Set all privacy options as strictly as possible.

‘Everyone’ or ‘public’ should never be selected for any post, for any reason. This is also where the Snap Maps feature comes into play. Your location should be turned off for all apps, not just SnapChat. Other apps might be more vague about where you are most of the time, but they often state your location in posts if the settings aren’t changed.

Those rules apply to all social media accounts. It is important to learn about the individual setting options for each app. Knowledge is power here, and I think much of the fear from adults stems from not knowing and understanding enough about the apps. Have your kids show you their apps explaining how each one works and ask questions about the privacy settings. Have them tell you about their friends if you don’t know them all. If they can’t provide sufficient info about that person, he or she gets deleted. Chill out about SnapChat and disallow any apps that don’t give you privacy control or provide any amount of anonymity, like Yik Yak or Kik.

Here are a couple of quick tips specifically for SnapChat to get you started:

*Set ‘see my story’ to ‘friends only’ or ‘custom’ and select only their closest buddies (especially for the under 16 bunch)

*Turn off the ‘Quick Add’ feature

*Turn on ‘Ghost-mode’ in Snap Maps

*Be sure kids are aware that screenshots can save a picture forever, even with the temporary nature of snaps.

These two rules create a double-layer of protection against the new Snap Maps feature. First off, it won’t matter much for friends to see where you are. They should all be people who already know where you live and what school you attend. Secondly, turning off the feature keeps anyone from seeing where you are, even in the unlikely event someone bad sneaks onto that friend list.

SnapChat is a favorite with my kids, and they have a blast with it. Personally, I think the ideal age for all the fun filters is about 7-12. Even our three-year-old has an account! (No, she does not have a phone – the account is on mine, and the youngest four kids all use it.)  She loves it and stays connected with her older siblings and cousin only. Getting an adorable bunny-face picture from a toddler can brighten even the worst of a teenager’s days.

 I think SnapChat is a good way to introduce kids to social media and teach them about it from a young age when parents still have the most influence in their lives. The experts have long been touting ‘early and often’ for sex-ed, but call for ‘abstinence’ for social media. That makes no sense to me.

In my (and my 16-year-old daughter’s) opinion, SnapChat is one of the safest despite its bad rap for being hard to monitor because the images disappear after being viewed. It is difficult for anyone with bad intentions to find accounts and spam them if the settings are done right. My daughter said she very rarely gets requests from unknown accounts, but they are commonplace on Instagram and Facebook.

We talk about social media often. I remind my kids about the basics of safety and discuss the possible adverse consequences of misusing it regularly. I tell them about stories I see in the news and ask how they can prevent something like that from happening to them. I look at friend lists and settings WITH my kids now and then.

You see, my daughter put her account on ghost-mode as soon as she saw Snap Maps in the new update – two days before I learned about it on FB and talked to her about it. She instinctively thought it seemed ‘creepy’ and wanted no part of it. We have had enough previous discussion about things for her to just know. She also alerted me to a different feature in Snapchat awhile back that is much more disturbing to me than Snap Maps. She was concerned about her 13-year-old sister being exposed to the content available in SnapChat Discover. It is a collection of magazine-type content that largely consists of celebrity gossip junk and social issue information with which I vehemently disagree. I still allow my kids to use SnapChat and explained that they were banned from looking at SnapChat Discover and if I caught them even one time, their account would be deleted. SnapChat recently started censoring the material served to those under 18, but SnapChat and I have very different opinions about what is appropriate content for those under 18.

Social media is a handy scapegoat for uninvolved parents to point to when things go badly. If a child is getting into trouble, social media is going to be a tool that makes it easier for them to get into even more trouble, but it isn’t the cause of the issue. If kids are making dangerous choices, I am all for deleting accounts and taking phones, but most kids can use it safely.

Focus on raising smart, confident kids who make good choices in an array of life’s areas, and you won’t have to hyperventilate over every change to the social media scene. It does have its upsides. I love that my kids can ‘hang out’ with their friends from the safety of our living room. I have also discovered that taking away a phone for a couple of days when a kid won’t do chores is an extra knife-to-the-heart when they lose a 100-day snap streak. If you don’t know what that means, you don’t know enough! Go ask your kid!

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Crystal Foose

Crystal Foose became a mother only a month past her 18th birthday. Today she is the mother of seven children ranging from teens to a toddler, living out in the middle of nowhere, Colorado. She is a conservative and a Christian, but not the really nice kind who is good at it. She aims to hone the craft of giving advice without pretending to have this whole mom thing figured out over on her blog.

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