By now many of you have heard about Snapchat’s new adult channel “Cosmo After Dark.” After a week of controversy in both the popular press and among parents online, it was taken down less than a week after being launched. Most of what I saw being shared on social media was designed to freak parents out and get them upset. All the outrage on this is really missing the point and frankly, missing an opportunity.
As someone who’s spent the past 18 months researching and writing a book on social media and families, here are my thoughts:
Social media and teens
1). The channel is new – adult content on Snapchat is not.
If you scroll through the discover section on the app, you will consistently see things that are not appropriate for kids. Examples? Sex tips, reviews of vibrators and sex toys, discussions about sexting, photos of people (mostly women) without a lot of clothes on, and that’s just the content having to do with sex.
There’s also lots of content about drinking, partying, hangovers, smoking weed, and vaping. It’s all there – IT’S BEEN THERE. If you have the app or allowed your kid to have a Snapchat account, then you presumably already know this.
2). Can the adult content be filtered out for younger users? No.
That’s a flaw, in my opinion. Keep in mind that content on the discovery section generally (but not always) reflects user preferences, so mine for example primarily shows me dogs, recipes, current events, some pop culture/geek stuff and Cincinnati Reds baseball. If I wanted to keep scrolling to find sex tips, I certainly could but I don’t.
3) If your kids are online, you need to talk to them about the adult content that they will encounter.
Let me say this a different way, if you’re one of the parents who think Snapchat is the devil and that you dodged a bullet here, I’d like to gently remind you that porn is everywhere online. EVERYWHERE. Most kids will see something (generally by accident) by the time they’re 11. This isn’t an “if” scenario, it’s a “when” scenario, so let’s not get outraged about this – let’s use it productively to help our kids navigate this environment.
4). Teach them that what to do WHEN they see adult content online.
Be ready for these conversations, think through what you want to say and make it your goal to be reassuring. Remind them that they will never be in trouble if it’s an accident and that they should always tell you right away when it happens. Empower them to be their own first line of defense on this.
5). Let them know that curiosity is totally normal.
Curiosity is normal, yes, but seeking out sexy content online is not the right way to satisfy that curiosity and tell them why. Kids who get curious and look for information online about sex can find themselves in some dark places, interacting with very bad people.
Explain to them why googling questions about sex is a bad idea and can expose them to risk. By the way, the research shows this is true across the board, but especially for kids and teens who are LGBTQ.
6). Identify some safe places online your teen can go to get their questions answered if they feel uncomfortable talking to you (which, let’s be honest, is very normal).
Or have some print resources around the house they can quietly peruse. This is really important. When kids come across this stuff, whether it’s by accident, or because they went looking for it, or because some jerk from school shoved it in your kid’s face, they need to be able to place it all in context. Talk to them about what they saw and provide that context, based on their age and what your family feels is appropriate.
In conclusion – don’t freak out. It’s going to be all right. If your kid has Snapchat (as my high schooler does) – it’s ok. Just talk to them about this. And if your kid doesn’t have Snapchat, that’s great – but still talk to them about it, because if it’s on their friends’ radars – it’s likely on theirs, too.
We were all going to have these awkward sex talks anyway, right? This is just a reminder to do that. I suggest doing it in the car where no one has to make eye contact and you’re less likely to notice your children rolling their eyes at you.
Good luck, everybody.