The Complete Guide to Snapchat for Teachers and Parents

By AJ Juliani on February 11, 2016

Snapchat is a video messaging application created by Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown when they were students at Stanford University (and then when living at Venice Beach not Silicon Valley). On Snapchat users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a specific list of recipients. Thes photos and videos are called “Snaps”. You can set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps (between 1-10 seconds). Then Snapchat claims they will be deleted from the company’s servers (aka they are not snooping on your data like some other companies).

Snapchat grew to develop a larger focus on its “Stories” functionality, which allows you to combine multiple snaps into a “story” that can be viewed by all of your friends/followers in chronological order, with each snap available for 24 hours after its posting. This feature has taken the social platform to the next level with people like DJ Khaled and Gary Vaynerchuk having huge followings just to see their stories. Not only do they have individual stories, Snapchat also features curated “live stories”, with pictures and videos from many users focusing on a specific theme or event, as well as channels of short-form content from major publishers (think Super Bowl or a Concert series).

From the Snapchat blog, the founders have shared three beliefs that drive the growth of their product:

We believe in sharing authentic moments with friends. It’s not all about fancy vacations, sushi dinners, or beautiful sunsets. Sometimes it’s an inside joke, a silly face, or greetings from a pet fish.

Sharing those moments should be fun. Communication is more entertaining when it’s with the people who know us best. And we know that no one is better at making us laugh than our friends.

There is value in the ephemeral. Great conversations are magical.
That’s because they are shared, enjoyed, but not saved.

In short, Snapchat is different from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram because it is not built on likes or content that drives traffic to another website (although that is changing a bit). It is built on sharing moments and live events. Because it is built on these beliefs, it is very relational and not as spammy or focused on selling/marketing/advertising.

Yea, but…

Snapchat for Parents and TeachersChances are if you are a parent or teacher reading this, you either don’t really know what Snapchat does, or believe it is used for selfies, sexting, and other bad purposes.

As with any social platform or web-based communication tool, yes it can be used for those purposes. But, that is the minority. Snapchat has gotten so popular over the last year that most of its users are using it on a daily and hourly basis for communication and sharing, not those other reasons.

Remember when you said you’d never get on Facebook? Remember when you said what’s that Instagram thing?

This is Snapchat’s moment. It’s going mainstream. If you are not using it now, chances are you’ll be using it in the next 6-18 months.

Not being on Snapchat now is like not being on Twitter in 2011 or Facebook in 2009. 

In order to help better explain what the app does, and how it is being used by teens, Snapchat released a parent’s guide in connection with Here are some of the key takeaways:

On Snapchat Use

Media-sharing. You can share both photos and videos on Snapchat, and both are called “Snaps.” Each time you take a Snap, you choose how long the viewers you select can view it, from 1 to 10 seconds. For the most part, Snaps are about sharing a moment and aren’t captured with a screenshot. When they are, Snapchat is set up to notify you, but people have found workarounds for that, including third-party apps that capture Snaps. So share with that in mind.

“Stories,” another feature that lets you string videos and photos together into, well, stories – stay available a little longer – 24 hours, in fact. Once you create a Snap, you have the option to start a Story with it. Then you can add more Snaps that help tell that Story.

One-on-one video or text chat. Swipe Snapchat’s main camera screen to the right, and you can either search your Friends list for someone to chat with or swipe a friend’s name to the right to get into a chat with that friend. Like photos and videos, chats generally disappear quickly too. Once both parties have left the chat, the messages are gone.

Filters. Swipe right on a Snap preview to customize the look of your Snaps. Use Geofilters – special design overlays that are available at specific locations or events around the world – for extra customization.

Snapcash. Snapchat’s payment feature is not for users under 18, but parents will want to know about it so nobody “borrows” their debit card to pay someone back or receive money via Snapchat. Snapchat partnered with Square, Inc., to enable users to link their Snapchat and debit card accounts to be able to make “peer-to-peer” payments.

On How to Best Setup Snapchat Settings

Manage your settings. Snapchat’s settings are really basic, but there are some settings that can help a lot: the “WHO CAN” ones. If you don’t want just anybody sending you Snaps, make sure you’re using the default setting to only accept incoming media from “My Friends.”

Here’s how to be sure: Tap the ghost icon at the top of the camera screen to access your profile, then tap the gear icon in the upper-right corner to access the settings menu. By “Who Can Send me Snaps,” be sure it says “My Friends” not “Everyone.” That way, only people you’ve “added” (or friended) on Snapchat can send you a photo or video. For more help with this, visit

On Sexting Concerns

Sexting concerns: Of course parents worry about sexting – kids sending nude or sexually explicit pictures of themselves on social media – but it’s not nearly as common as some media reports have suggested. In fact, research shows it’s pretty rare among younger teens. Still, sexting certainly can happen. Teens need to know what the implications of sexting are. For more on this, see

How to Use Snapchat At School or In the Classroom

Here’s the good news, getting started on Snapchat now will only help you understand how this platform is being used. I believe it can have some major implications for teaching, communication, and sharing. Here are three ways I see it being used:

  1. Sharing of the Good: All the students are on Snapchat, so why don’t we have school accounts where we are sharing what is going on in classrooms and extra-curricular events (athletic activities etc). This gets great engagement from our students and they are more likely to watch and engage on this platform than any other right now.
  2. Live Stories of School Events: Got a big event going on in your classroom or school? Snapchat has live stories of all kinds of events (Super Bowl, Concert Series, MakerFaire) and I see it eventually pulling from all different accounts in your geographic area (school or district) to compile an amazing story from multiple vantage points at a school event.
  3. Blasting Out Information That Students Will See: Email open rates are dreadful, especially among the ages of 13-22. They don’t check email and don’t open/read when it comes through. Remind has done a wonderful job getting much needed information into students hands/devices. I see Snapchat as a way for teachers to share out a change to the homework, or demonstration, or cool piece of content to their students on the app that takes up 80% of their time.

I can’t wait to see how Snapchat evolves, but this much is certain: It’s here to stay. Are you on Snapchat? Have you been thinking about using it in your classroom or school? Maybe you don’t know much about it. Would love to hear thoughts in the comments – and you can check me out on Snapchat at ajjuliani.

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