Somewhere between its early roots of catering only to Ivy League students to becoming a repository for doting moms to post adorable family photos, Facebook has totally lost its appeal amongst teens. I didn’t get the memo that Facebook is no longer cool, but I guess I should have taken the hint when my mother started “tagging her location” every time we went out to eat. But, I digress.
If you’re a parent, you know (or you need to know) that your teen and/or most of their friends spend hours each day on SnapChat. As a clinical psychologist who does a lot of work with teenagers presenting with stress, anxiety, and social difficulties, I can confidently say that the word “SnapChat” creeps its way into at least 75% of my therapy sessions with adolescents. And almost always, it's in the context of some way in which this app has been hurtful.
Here are three things you need to know about how kids are using SnapChat to hurt each other:
- Passive-aggressive public posts are often used as a form of gaining alliances.
You know how when you were a teen, kids would talk behind each other's backs? Well, thanks to SnapChat, teens can now actually talk behind each other's back right in front of each other. How does it work?
Here's a typical scenario: Avery is seen hanging out with Noah at a party; Avery's friend Katie likes Noah but wasn't invited to that party. Impulsively, Katie makes a public Snapstory, visible by all their friends, saying "it's really cool when you flirt with a guy you know your bff is into." Of course, this brings about speculation from their entire peer group. You can imagine the emotional and interpersonal implications of this post on Avery for weeks to come. This kind of public passive-aggressiveness is happening regularly - either to our teens or at least right in front of them.
- Teens derive their sense of friendship stability from “streaks."
SnapChat has a feature called “snapstreaks” or, as the kids call it, just “streaks”. A streak is created when you send direct snaps (pictures with or without captions) back and forth with a friend on consecutive days. The app tells you how many days you’ve been streaking with each friend. Business Insider interviewed teens about snapstreaks last year, and one teen's quote aptly reflected the message I keep hearing:
"Once you start a streak with someone, you've got to be committed to (continuing it) every day. If you stop it, it shows that you don't really care about that person."
These streaks have not only become the default measure of success on SnapChat, they've become a default measure of success (or rejection) within peer relationships.
- Party photos can be social warfare.
For teens today, there is immense pressure to create a perception of having a perfect life on social media. By all accounts, most of the teens in my practice have it all going for them; but, when they compare themselves to the fake "realities" they see on social media day in and day out, their self esteem suffers. Moreover, because of Snapstories, they are acutely aware of every single social gathering and event going on with their classmates. Since no one is invited to everything, they end up feeling left out and rejected all too often. Worse yet is when teens actively hurt each other (and gain social power) by purposely leaving someone out and then posting photos of the get-together. When your teen is at home on a weekend night and scrolling through their phone, it's important for you to know what they're likely seeing: a compilation of perfectly constructed images of their peers ostensibly having the time of their lives. In turn, your teen's seemingly harmless phone scrolling on the couch can, through both immediate and cumulative effects, lead to feelings of isolation, rejection, and lowered self-esteem.
I hope this informations empowers you with the knowledge (and SnapChat "language") to speak to your kids about the role that social media may be playing in their lives. If your child could benefit from speaking with a therapist who specializes in evidence-based treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and parent management training, please feel to contact me at 267-551-1984.