A Moral Review of Snapchat [and a few questions for assessing the value of other apps]

Snapchat has a commanding reign over our youth’s social media intake – 83% of teens regularly use Snapchat and most of them open the app at least 25 times a day for at least 30 minutes per day (but I am going to guess it is higher than that). For these stats and more check out http://www.businessofapps.com/data/snapchat-statistics/#1 and https://www.statista.com/topics/2882/snapchat/. So, if you’re a parent of a teen with a smart phone, it is almost guaranteed that your teen is neck-deep in Snapchat. It is also guaranteed that if your teen is neck-deep in this app (or any other app) then they are heart-deep in it as well. The Bible tells us that whatever captures a person’s eyes and mind will eventually capture their heart, and whatever captures their heart is the object of their worship and devotion (Gen 3:1-7). Parents are called to raise their children to worship God (Eph 6:4), therefore we must analyze Snapchat (or any other app) because it vies for the devotion of its users (1 John 2:15-17). So lets inspect Snapchat:

What is Snapchat – Snapchat is a phone based app that allows its users to send and receive customized picture and video messages. The catch, and Snapchat’s biggest point of popularity, is that these picture and video messages stay accessible for only a short amount of time and then disappear forever. Users can screen shot a picture or a frame of a video, but this practice is frowned upon in Snapchat culture. Snapchat also allows its users to post “stories”, which are pictures or videos that stay accessible for 24 hours. Snapchat also has a “Discover” page dedicated to popular news articles and other popular media outlets (like Daily Mail, Buzzfeed, and SportsCenter).

The Pros of Snapchat

  1. Fosters creativity – There are many things that Snapchat does well and one of them is giving young minds creative tools to augment the world around them. Each photo or video message has the chance to become a personal, unique masterpiece. Users can utilize filters, word captions, emojis/stickers, and even freehand (in this case free finger) drawing to customize their snaps. This is fun and playful and it can help users see the world around them in a different, creative light.
  2. Easy communication – With 83% of teens using this app (and with a growing number of their parents using it) it seems that Snapchat is becoming a chosen method of communication. Some users are giving up texting as their basic form of communication for Snapchat. It does make communication unique, offering a creative and quick alternative to simple text-only messages. The “Discover” page also gives lightning fast, up-to-the-minute news and popular media coverage.
  3. Multifaceted – This may be a pro or a con depending on your opinion, but Snapchat has started to offer services outside of normal social media bounds. You are now able to transfer money to other users. It has also brought live streaming capabilities to its user base, users can now broadcast a live video feed to their followers.

The Cons of Snapchat

  1. Sexual Temptation – Thinking through the structure of Snapchat, a platform to send images and videos that go away after a short amount of time, it is easy to figure out how this app could be used for sexting (the sending and receiving of sexually explicit messages). Users are also allowed to follow any account that is marked “public”, so if a user follows an account that posts sexual material then they will receive a notification whenever a post from that account comes. Now, these are soft consequences of Snapchat’s structure, users can easily exercise self-control and prevent these situations, but Snapchat does openly display sexual content to its users. Case in point, the curated “Discover” page, which is one swipe away from the home page, has explicitly sexual “articles” posted often. I have to say, sexual material aside, the rest of the “Discover” page’s subject matter is often not much more wholesome.
  2. No accountability – There is a general lack of accountability in Snapchat. Given the structure of Snapchat, it is easy to see why disappearing evidence of misconduct, bullying, and immaturity can be a license to commit such acts. It is also easy to see how disappearing messages can facilitate a desire to honor things that would not be honored if they were done in public. Since most parents don’t use the app, it seems that most youth view Snapchat as their own world, unfettered from adult presence, and indigestible by parents who care enough to look into it.
  3. Zombification – Snapchat’s quick-fire communication, creative instruments, and streaming news gives its users a constant feed of friend-oriented and pop culture content. This feed leaves a youth suctioned to their phone in a way that makes it difficult to break them away, both physically and mentally. For teens, who are realizing their reasoning capabilities and the value of peers and recognition, Snapchat seems to provide all that they need, hence it is no wonder how a teen can burn through a day on Snapchat.

Verdict on Snapchat – Snapchat is fun, a lot of fun. The ability to create and send simple, unique, and meaningful masterpieces to your friends is truly good and fun. Yet I cannot overlook the cost of giving a mind and heart over to an app that celebrates boundary-less sex, a consequence-less mentality, and an accountability-less culture, all within an all-encompassing format that won’t let go once you are hooked. With that being said, I believe Snapchat asks too high a price for use without parental conversation and boundaries.

As we consider the value of Snapchat, we must also consider the value of other apps – and so here are some helpful questions to think through.

Do I know what apps my kids are devoting their time to?

Do I know where this app leads the eyes, minds, and hearts of my children?

Does this app help sanctify my child?

How do I change the focus of my child from something other than to God?

Humans, children included, were created to worship God. The biblical idea of worship can be boiled down to the idea of devotion. Further than that, the Bible tells us that what a person devotes their lives to ultimately shapes them. Romans 12:1 points to this, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God [the gospel explained in Romans 1-11], I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. ” God calls us to present our lives to him as a living sacrifice, in other words we are to devote ourselves to God in active worship. Parents need to lead their children to this devotion of God. Romans 12:2 explains how this is done, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Our devotion to God begins with the gospel transformation of our minds. But all of man is sinfully prone to devoting their lives to anything else other than God and being shaped by it instead of God. If our kids are devoting themselves to the products of this world instead of God, then they will be transformed by them and worship what they promote. In the case of Snapchat that means the worship of sex, no accountability, no responsibility, and celebrity.

Also layered in Romans 12:1-2 is the way in which people change their focus from something other than God to God himself. This is done by transforming the mind and heart with the truths of God’s mercy revealed in Christ and the gospel! When Snapchat’s glory is compared to the glory of God… there is only one victor and one true person who deserves our worship and devotion – God. In fact, you seriously compare anything’s glory against God’s glory and God’s glory will win out. In order to transfer the devotion of our kids from an app (or anything) to God, we must seriously instruct them of God’s glory, begin with who he is and what he has done, and then faithfully model out the implications of having such a glorious God as our focus of devotion in everyday life.

One day we will give an account for how we took care of all that God gave us. These gifts are meant to flourish under our attention and care as a sign of our love to God. The proper stewardship of these gifts is glorifying to God, and therefore God takes the stewardship of the family very seriously. One of the gifts he gives us to steward is our children (Ps 127). One day we will give an account for how we raised our children. We will testify to whether we raised our children for God’s glory and their eternal good or not. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 tells us what our goal is for our children – their sanctification (holiness, godliness, or Christlikeness). Parents should raise their children to be holy as God is holy, this again ties into Romans 12:1-2 and how devotion and gospel transformation are cyclical. Raising children is a serious, God-glorifying responsibility and so parents should protect the spiritual growth and devotion of their children. Each app should be scrutinized under the simple, yet impactful question, “Does this app help my child become more like Christ?” If it does, or it can, then great, but if it doesn’t, or can’t, then it must be cut off.

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