What parents need to know about teen trend 'Snapchat'

11:13 AM, Feb 7, 2013   |    comments
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BLAINE, Minn. - Every once in awhile, parents need to sit down and get a lesson from their children. Sometimes it's a lesson in humility, but if you're a parent of a teen, you might want to get a little lesson in technology.

The current craze in the halls of high schools surrounds Snapchat.

"It's kind of a hot new app and it's mostly used by teenagers and college students so far," Shayla Thiel-Stern, a professor of social media at the University of Minnesota, explained.

KARE 11 sat down with three teens from Blaine to learn more about the technology, which allows users to send so-called "self-destructing" pictures or videos.

"It's pretty much like texting," Casey McCarty explained.

"The second you send it, it shows up on the other person's phone and they can view it right away," Casey's buddy Alec Olson said.

You can set how long the message lasts before the Snapchat message self-destructs. You can also draw on the pictures, which is a big part of the appeal.

"It is a novelty, you use it because people use it with you," Devin Pendergast, the third tech-savvy teen we talked with, explained.

There is a notion that the message disappears forever after it self-destructs. The trio of friends we talked to say users can capture a screen grab of a picture easily. In fact, Snapchat sends the message sender a note when the picture is grabbed. Another way to keep that message alive is by shooting it off the phone screen with another phone or camera before it disappears.

"It's not poof forever gone. There are ways of retrieving it," Thiel-Stern said.

"Everything is permanent on the internet. Everything you do leaves an indelible mark," Jake DeWoskin, an IT Security Expert with KDV Technology and Consulting, told KARE 11. He says even if you don't screen grab or "shoot the message" with a different device, there are ways to recover it.

"It's not particularly high tech. People who have copied data on and off their mobile phones are already using the same process that could be used to pull a video or pull an image off of a phone," DeWoskin explained.

And while the recipient can possibly retrieve or recall the "self-destructing" message, the sender cannot.

"Once you hit send, you have lost control of that image forever. You cannot recall it. You cannot ask for it back," DeWoskin warns.

Thiel-Stern has written volumes on how the current adolescent generation uses social media. She says she understands the appeal of Snapchat. "You get the feeling at least that you're leaving less of a digital footprint," she said.

While Facebook and Twitter allow information to be shared in online communities or forums, Snapchat allows users, again mostly teens and young adults, to communicate one on one.

"You don't have the watchful eyes of parents and others looking at what they're doing on Snapchat and that's the attraction. In this case it seems like a huge disconnect so far. Parents are really tuned into Facebook right now," she noted.

The professor has also followed the media buzz surrounding the popular app.

"The moral panic that's going on right now is that it's all about sexting and I actually think that's overblown and I think once somebody does a study on it, I personally believe this is going to be an overblown fear," Thiel-Stern said.

Some parents haven't heard of the app, others are banning it while other parents are monitoring it. "A lot of potential issues can be overcome simply through conversation with your kids," Thiel-Stern concluded. "Certainly talk to your children and understand if they're using it, how they're using it, why they're using," DeWoskin added.

Snapchat's owners did not respond to KARE 11's request for comment, but they did respond to NBC, writing, in part: "We built Snapchat to give people a fun, expressive and authentic way to have conversations. We've been blown away by the enthusiasm for the app from people of all ages."

The teens we talked with use the app the way it was intended, as a way to connect and goof around a little bit. Their parents have chatted with them about social media. Casey McCarty's plugged-in dad told him "everything is still traceable so don't do anything stupid."

Is Snapchat a new social media staple or will it "self-destruct" in the teen's 10-second tech window?

"I just kind of got a little bored with it. The novelty kind of wore off," teen Alec Olson said.

While apps may come and go, messages sent over smart phones and the internet stick around, whether you know it or not.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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