Young people face bullying and abuse threats from new craze

Scots parents are being warned that their children are at risk of being bullied, opening themselves up to unknown contacts and spending longer and longer on their phones because of the latest online craze.

The warning about Snapchat ‘Streaks’, from Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC), follows similar concerns from parents around the globe, with a petition being launched for Snapchat to withdraw the feature.

The feature – which involves two people sending messages back and forth for a continuous number of days - was launched by Snapchat in March 2016 and has gathered pace with the younger generation using smart-phones.

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It sees young people challenging one another to build and maintain the longest chain, or ‘streak’, with users boasting online about the length of their streaks and the trend being seen as way to ‘measure’ friendship.

But with young people aiming to create the longest chain and showing off by setting up multiple chains with people on Snapchat, there are concerns that youngsters are being threatened and bullied if they break the chain and that they are spending longer and longer on their phones to ensure the streaks continues.

Mandy Haeburn-Little, Chief Executive Officer of SBRC, said it is important that parents realise that what can seem a simple game can have sinister implications.

She said: “Smart-phones and apps are very much part of growing up in today’s culture – but many parents lack an understanding of the intricacies of these apps.

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“What has happened with Snapchat Streaks is that it has created a scoring system – a bit like the compulsion to continue sharing as seen in pyramid schemes - that is now endangering children.

“These ‘streaks’ may seem like a harmless bit of fun; however they have the risk of very quickly spiraling and creating an unhealthy balance between time spent online and offline.

“We appreciate that young people may get in a panic especially if they are on holiday and can not continue these streaks.

“There is also the fear that it encourages children to add people they don’t know, as friends, to gain as many ‘streaks’ as they can, exposing them to the threat of people who prey on children.

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“Snapchat messages cannot be traced and often disappear after a short frame of time. This lends itself to bullies who seek to take advantage of the lack of proof this provides. It could also be used by those who seek to find a way to engage with youngsters for their own purposes.

“If a parent is every in any way worried about their child using Snapchat, we urge them to investigate this with their child and look to strictly monitor use. We would also recommend putting our tips to good use.”

The Snapchat ‘streak’ is represented by a small fire emoji next to names within the private messaging service; with a number to represent the number of days a ‘streak’ has lasted, such as:

Tips for ‘Snapchat Parents’:

If your child is under 13 – do not allow them to download Snapchat. Instead investigate the under 13 option, from the same company, SnapKidz. This does not allow messages to be sent, but still allows the fun photo features to be used.

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Speak to your child and encourage them to only add users they know. Perhaps monitor their friend list and ask them who their friends on the apps are in real life.

Discuss bullying with your child – both from the perspective of the giver and receieved. Ask them to take a screenshot of any behaviour that they feel uncomfortable about and report it to you.

Encourage your child to maintain a healthy balance between time spent online and offline. In the case of Snapchat ‘streaks’ perhaps ask them to maintain ‘streaks’ with only their closest friends. A streak is at least one message per day, so excessive messaging is not required to maintain this streak.