Rachel Simmons is a fan of a popular app used by 38% of American teenagers that allows “a look at teenage life as startlingly authentic as it is fleeting”:

Snapchat is the app that lets users share photos or video that disappear. If apps were cool kids, Snapchat would hold court in the middle of the cafeteria: Its 100 million daily active loyalists are mostly teenagers and millennials.

 

A new study appears to support Simmons’ positive view of the app where photos and videos disappear ten seconds after the recipient views them:

Snapchat use actually predicts more social enjoyment and positive mood than Facebook and other social media, according to a new University of Michigan study.

And the only interaction more rewarding than Snapchat? It’s still face-to-face communication.

 

Communication on Snapchat is decidedly one-sided: replies and comments, “likes,” “shares,” and “re-tweets” are neither solicited nor offered. The fact that messages disappear so quickly, compared to other apps which have to be deleted by the recipient, earns Simmon’s stamp of approval:

I don’t gush lightly. I’ve spent years cringing at visual platforms like Instagram and Facebook, which pressure teenagers to fake the perfect life, even when they’re miserable. Snapchat, by contrast, offers users few options to beautify a post. Its scant filters — add a time, speed or location stamp, draw a crude picture with your finger, or thumb a caption — can only be plastered, clumsily, over your content. The message from the app’s creators seems to be: Document your life, not yourself.

Videos are shot carelessly in the dark, their images trembling from distracted hands. The short shelf life of these images lets teenagers abandon the need to emulate the perfectly posed celebrity, or to represent life as more fabulous than it really is.

 

Like all social media platforms, teenagers need to be really careful about what information (often personal and intimate) they are sharing, and with whom. Still, Simmons says there are more upsides than downsides with Snapchat:

Of course, Snapchat isn’t foolproof. No app is. Like all social media, Snapchat can be used as a vehicle for cruelty, and FOMO, or the fear of missing out, still afflicts users. You will surely catch a glimpse of an event you weren’t invited to, though, as Imani, 19, told me: “You may feel excluded, but at least it disappears! You can’t sit there and look at it all night and feel bad.” And not everything you send may actually disappear. Recipients of your message can screenshot the content, saving it forever in their phones (Snapchat will notify users when this happens).

Still, I’m giving this app a chance. I hope parents will, too. Spend a little time talking with your teenager about Snapchat, and you may find that beneath the cool kid exterior, there is an app here with heart and good intentions, one that is challenging some destructive norms of online life, and making the Internet a much more authentic, genuine place to hang out.

 

Read the rest of Rachel Simmons’ essay from the New York Times Motherlode blog here.