The snapchat streaker – social media flash in the pan?

“My son wants to streak with his friends”, says one mother engaging me in conversation. A wry smile breaks out across my face – it’s not what you think it is – I say. We may not be talking about her son taking off his clothes in public and making a dash in full view of his peers. As we clarify the context of the term we discover that her son has been lobbying to setup a social media account on Snapchat so he can streak with his friends.

‘Streaking’ which is also known as a snap streak – is when ‘two people have sent a photo/video to each other (but not chatted on social media or face to face) within 24 hours for more than three consecutive days’. This is represented by an 🔥 emoji icon or symbol and is given out on Snapchat accounts to mark the event, there is even an online record for the longest streak.

To some adults this streak number may seem meaningless, but that is no reason to ignore it without understanding the meaning of it. Through the eyes of a teen seeking social acceptance and peer group approval a streak number has immensely more significance.

As human beings we set considerable store by how others may be thinking about us or their feelings toward us. Feelings of social validation, school and peer approval as well as managing our personal vulnerabilities are all part of the socialization processes. At no time in our lives is this more important than during the hormonal maelstrom that is our teenage years.

Adding insult to injury – the technology is designed to ‘manipulate, exploiting our psychological vulnerabilities with particular reference to teenagers – described Design Ethicist Tristan Harris. Exploiting the need for approval, games, points and rewards are all integral to the process of keeping teens online for as long as possible. To motivate and maintain participation is the name of the game and Snapchat’s streaking feature does this perfectly.

Is this enough for a parent to say ‘no’ to their teen having Snapchat?
With currently 4 million users in Australia alone – probably not.

So, advice for the mother in question – or for any other responsible adult in a similar situation – would be to have a conversation with the teenager in question.
First up is to understand that Social media has many shortcomings, the risks and reminders to organisations and schools come daily. Parents can benefit by learning a little about social media themselves and keeping up to date on the latest social media trends. It would be wise to discuss, how their teen wishes to use Snapchat, then outline what are the expectations for use and the consequences of going outside those boundaries.
Discuss why they wish to use the app. Identify what their peers do with the app and why it is now the app of choice amongst his or her peers. And remember it is not about the numbers of streaks or likes.

Assess the risks to reputation, the impact of peer pressure to socially conform.
Do some basic research on the functionality of the social media app to identify the risks. Snapchat can move video, audio, photos, text and be used to make calls. Teens love that ‘snaps’ disappear after ten seconds and they are notified if a screenshot has been taken by those receiving the message. Location services are in many apps to help users identify the location of others. Friends can be located on Snap Map if the location function is on. Like all apps which send and receive video, audio, photos and text, Snapchat can be used for sexting and other inappropriate content.

Discuss what would be appropriate security settings and responsible use of the app. If you are unsure, conduct a search using the term ‘safe settings on Snapchat’ (or any other app in question).
Reaffirm what to do should your teen feel unsure or uneasy – who your teens can trust and where to go if something goes wrong online.

What is acceptable social media conduct …
Discuss what you believe is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
If you have not already discussed them, it could be good idea to include the most recent round of unacceptable online social media based behaviour, topics such as sexting, violence, pornography, bullying, etc.

It is a good opportunity to reaffirm the values and principles of what makes for a meaningful and rewarding friendship. Numbers indicate only quantity, point out that there is no number that specifies quality which is the true basis of a cherished friendship. The quality of a relationship is not defined by the numbers of Likes, Streaks or Shares but in the trust and the sharing of a common interest, to experience laughter, loyalty or the simple pleasure of being with good company and much more.
These values are the real currency of a life well lived and they are as relevant to online social media communications as much as face-to-face interactions.

As a community we should be aware by now that high quantity is frequently attended by low quality – people are happier and find more meaning in fewer relationships with high quality that offer more depth and opportunities for personal growth.

Social Media breaking down the barriers of social mobility ?
Social Media apps come with what seems like an infinite flexibility to express every application available to human interaction, like any technology, social media apps present us with challenging and complex situations. Yet this should not be an excuse for us to abandon these playful and powerful tools. Use them, learn about them with your teen, as they present an opportunity to explore together and further strengthen your own communications, face-to-face.

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