Snapchat is the enemy. At least that’s how it feels to a lot of the parents I know. It’s something about the disappearing messages or the way it lends itself to “streaks” (where users send snaps back and forth without interruption for as long as they can keep it up). Nevermind that there may actually be something decent, even authentic, about the way kids are encouraged to send messages they know will be free from public scrutiny and will never EVER be seen by a college admissions office.

When you’re the parent of a teen, Snapchat can be scary.

Instagram is the safer option (isn't it?)

Until now, Instagram has been the sparkling water to Snapchat’s Mountain Dew—mostly clear, with a little bit of virtuous sparkle. It’s just water! Nothing to worry about there! Instagram encourages more thoughtful posting. More artistic images. More encouraging comments. All the parents I know seem relatively unconcerned about Instagram.

But that may be about to change. When the latest update of the popular photo-sharing app was released last week it included a host of new features. Chief among these is Instagram Stories, which is unabashedly a rip-off of the identically named Snapchat Stories (a fact that Instagram’s CEO has actually owned up to, in a surprisingly candid moment.)

Instagram Stories are almost exactly like Snapchat Stories—from the disappearing images to the text and drawing tools. Instagram clearly thinks Snapchat has discovered something users love, and they want to capture that love, too. (Image courtesy of TechCrunch)

Apps and social networks evolve. That’s a fact of life. Snapchat’s snaps can now be saved, Tumblr now permits live video. Vines are no longer limited to just 6-seconds.

Every platform reinvents what’s been done before.

But what feels different about Instagram’s latest reinvention is that it barely qualifies as an invention. It looks, works, and feels like Snapchat Stories.

And in some cases it might be better than Snapchat, because it harnesses a social network teens may have been developing since before Snapchat even existed.

Instagram Stories are shown above the main Instagram feed (it's the row of circular profile pictures in the image on the left). Once you click on a circle it feels a little like you've opened a completely different social media app (image on the right—now we all get to see Taylor Swift's garden!). All of the browsing controls are different (and hidden), the posts have a completely different look, and the familiar captions, comments, and likes are completely gone.

Why are teens (and social media companies) obsessed with disappearing messages?

The headline feature of Instagram Stories is that what you post disappears after 24 hours. That disappearance is what made Snapchat the go-to place for many teens. While that's scary for many parents, for teens it tends to ease some social pressures. We've written about the benefits of that before and here's a quote from an actual teen that summarizes it well:

On no other social network (besides Twitter possibly) is it acceptable [to] post an “I’m soooo bored” photo besides Snapchat. There aren't likes you have to worry about or comments—it’s all taken away. Snapchat has a lot less social pressure attached to it compared to every other popular social media network out there. This is what makes it so addicting and liberating. If I don’t get any likes on my Instagram photo or Facebook post within 15 minutes you can sure bet I'll delete it. Snapchat isn't like that at all and really focuses on creating the Story of a day in your life, not some filtered/altered/handpicked highlight. It’s the real you.

Andrew Watts, 19

With Instagram Stories, users immediately get all of those benefits. There are no likes or comments on Instagram Stories, which takes away a lot of anxiety for teens. You can only post photos and videos that were taken in the last 24 hours. All of this pushes teens towards sharing more authentic stories about what's going on right now rather than crafting a perfect version of their life for others to see.

And of course, Instagram is also clearly hoping this will result in people posting more pictures and checking for updates from their friends more often.

The scary part of Snapchat—inappropriate sharing

The good news is that both Snapchat Stories and Instagram Stories are less likely to encourage inappropriate sharing than the original Snapchat snaps. First, stories, by default, go to all of your followers (though it's possible to hide your story from some). Second, everyone who can see your story can view the messages as often as they want for 24 hours.

That's very different from the Snapchat snaps, which can only be viewed once (ok, twice) before they completely disappear. And those snaps go directly, and exclusively, to the person or people you choose.

Think of snaps as disappearing text messages, while Stories are like an Instagram feed that deletes itself after 24 hours. The snaps are much more private and intimate than Stories.

Is there a bigger chance kids will do more spontaneous—and therefore ill-considered—posting? Yes. But it's a far cry from the immediately disappearing snaps that gave Snapchat it's concerning reputation with parents to begin with.

What about finstagram accounts?

Another possible shift could come in how teens use finstagram accounts (you can read more about those here). Previously, teens employed finstas so they could keep their "real" Instagram account pristine—full of curated images presenting the polished ideal the teen wanted others (as many others as possible) to see. Now that there’s a built-in way for teens to show off another, less permanent, side of themselves, there’s a chance that finstas will become a thing of the past.

It's definitely not a sure thing, though. There's another element to the way teens use finsta that won't change. Having a second, hidden Instagram account—one you can choose to share with just a few select friends, along with the social currency that represents—may still hold appeal for many teens.

What's with the doodling and the text over images?

Instagram Stories also allows users to apply text and to draw directly on their images. This is a HUGE deal for teens, and looks like it's largely replacing text messaging for some.

Teens aren't using these photos to capture a moment they want to preserve or to make an artistic statement (teens do take those kinds of pictures, too, and often post them to their regular Instagram feed); instead these photos with text are purely a way to communicate a fleeting thought. Want to tell your friends you're bored being stuck at home? Take a photo of yourself with a bored face sitting on the couch. Want to complain about cleaning your room? Take a photo of the huge mess (a photo most would never post on regular Instagram). And with each of these photos add a drawing or some text to emphasize the point.

There's a whole new language growing up around these sorts of text/photos. Kids send the content of what they want to say as text on the image, then use a picture of themselves to convey the emotions behind it. So the picture is just their face showing sadness, happiness, or frustration, while the text describes what they're feeling that emotion about.

If you can set aside your worry over the possibility of naked body parts showing up in these photos... it's easier to appreciate the creativity behind them.

Team Instagram or Team Snapchat

It’s early days yet, but the birth of Instagram Stories has already created some conflict in teen circles. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people feel the need to choose: Team Instagram or Team Snapchat.

In my utterly unscientific study (comprised solely of my 14-year-old daughter’s response to the question, “Hey—what do you know about Instagram Stories?”), Team Snapchat seems to be winning the early battle.

My daughter’s Instagram Stories feed has thus far been filled with friends who are using the new format to post a single message:

Teens are using Instagram Stories to invite their friends to follow them on Snapchat instead.

They seem annoyed that Instagram has so blatantly stolen Snapchat’s format. For now, Snapchat has their loyalty. Will that change as more and more of them begin using Instagram Stories? Maybe.

More about the "new" Instagram

Instagram has also introduced a new "discover" function where teens can easily find new people to follow (think artists and celebs, not new friends). That might be a draw for teens.

The latest update presents one more thing for parents to keep an eye on—Instagram direct messages.

Now, this isn’t new. Instagram has had a direct message function (where you can essentially text a specific person a message that only they will see) since the end of 2013. But while we see some teens using this feature, it's not terribly common. That may also be about to change.

Instagram Stories doesn’t let followers like or leave a public comment on a story—if you want to say something to the story’s author the only way to do it is to direct message them. (There’s even a prompt to write this message when you hover over the bottom of a story.)

So now I predict that direct messages on Instagram will increasingly become a thing. And maybe that will be fine. But it’s also encouraging the sort of messaging that, because it’s not public, might lend itself to more personal comments. Or more inappropriate comments. And when you’re the parent of a teen, anything that encourages concerning behavior is something to keep an eye on.

Want to know more about Instagram Stories? Look here and here.