Knowing and staying on top of what your child is doing online can feel scary.

Let’s be honest at times it can feel impossible. Disappearing messages are normal for our kids but for many of us it can be a little spooky and difficult to get your head around. Personally, I find there’s nothing more annoying that going back to look at a previous message and its gone! But the kids love it.

So, what do you need to know about disappearing messages and the apps they’re on.

1) They don’t necessarily disappear.

A common misconception about messages on apps like Instagram and Snapchat are that the messages and images disappear after a few seconds. So, what’s the harm in sharing a quick pic that might be a little “on the line” or inappropriate. We need to teach our kids that once its shared it’s no longer private. Once you hit send you’ve effectively lost control of it. The receiver can easily screenshot it or take a photo with another device, so it’s a false sense of it vanishing.

2) It’s not just the apps you know, it’s the ones you don’t.

As we know there’s always new apps popping up and our kids, especially our teens are early adopters of them. It is overwhelming trying to keep on top of what’s out there so what can you do? Pick up their phone and see what apps they have on their device. If you don’t recognise any, find out what they are. If any apps are locked this is a red flag! Don't dismiss the seemingly innocuous apps either…there are many apps that look like one thing but are actually a front for another. So be thorough. I am going to add here that there is a fine line here and each parent/child dynamic is different, and each family has their own ways. Try and be as respectful as possible and tell your kids that this is all about their safety, not snooping. Good luck, this bit of parenting is hard.

One way to get around this is to have a rule where any new apps that your child wants to download requires parental approval.

3) There’s no trace. No evidence.

OK, so before I said they don’t necessarily disappear, and that's true in some cases, but if you think about the possibilities and the ramifications of disappearing messages and images it is very frightening.

Disappearing messages means there is no evidence. No proof of what has been sent and said. Evidence is important to prove that there has been harassment, threats, bullying, intimidation, explicit or inappropriate images and so on. Without the proof it’s hard to really get other people to know what’s happening and if necessary report it.

It’s vital that your kids understand the dangers that are posed by disappearing messages and it’s up to you to teach them and help them navigate their way through this online world they inhibit.

Code9 Parent helps parents learn what they need to know to help their kids online. See our courses here