If your children are the proud possessors of an iPhone, an iPod with a camera or an Android phone, they are probably aware of Snapchat, the app that allows users to send photos that disappear within a few seconds of viewing, whether they are using it or not. In theory, the app is limited to users over 13; in practice, “an overwhelming number of the 100 million photos shared every day are from teenagers and tweens,” Aimee Lee Ball writes in the Style section. Judging from Snapshat’s latest move, the creation of Snapkidz, the company hopes to bring ever-younger children gradually on board.

Snapchatters send funny, ugly or obscene images, often of themselves, to “share a moment with friends.” A photo can be quickly edited in goofy ways — adding a unicorn horn, for example. Used as intended, Snapchat is the most benign way to send such things, but in practice, the speedy recipient can grab a screenshot and share an image far beyond the sender’s intent.

Snapchat’s founders brush off these concerns — “if you want to play a mean joke, we can’t stop you,” one of the founders, Evan Spiegel, told Ball. In an earlier interview with The Times, he noted that Snapchat offered no promise of security. “It’s a communication platform,” he said. “It’s not our job to police the world or Snapchat of jerks.”

It is their job to grow their company. The less cynical might take Snapkidz as Snapchat’s effort to offer a child-friendly alternative to its full service: You can add the unicorn horn to your selfie, you just can’t send it anywhere. Those of us more inclined to see the Trojans in the horse might suspect that Snapkidz is a gateway — parents might more readily agree to a nonsharing photo editing app, and children will quickly want more.

As Kate Knibbs writes at Digital Trends, Snapkidz is otherwise pointless for both children and parents.

SnapKidz is like a pair of really flimsy, slightly deflated arm floaties. Parents slip them on their kids and may assume they won’t have to watch them swim as closely. But they don’t actually make the child safer. Not only are they ineffective, but the child can voluntarily slip them off at any time. It’s a paltry safety method that will impart a false sense of security more than it will actually prevent underagers from accessing Snapchat.

And just as parents will never be able to see what’s under the surface as their child swims, they’ll never be able to totally monitor their digital behavior. But the best way to make sure your kid doesn’t drown AND the best way to make sure your kid doesn’t get nude pictures sent to them is one and the same: Teach them how to swim (teach them how to be a responsible netizen) and keep them as supervised as possible.

Snapchat is far from the only way children are rapidly moving online, and often taking parents unawares. (I can’t count the number of friends who discovered their middle schoolers on Instagram last year.) If your children, tweens and young teens have phones, what apps are they using that you yourself haven’t explored yet? 

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

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