Snapchat wants to ‘empower’ families with Family Centre feature. Here’s what to know

Features like Family Centre might be an improvement in protecting and monitoring kids’ social media, one online safety advocate told NPR that such a tool might not be realistic for all parents. — Photo by April Walker on Unsplash

Snapchat released a new parental control tool in its app called Family Centre that gives parents a way to monitor who their kids are communicating with on the social media platform.

Snapchat has been around for over a decade, but the features released on Tuesday, Aug 9 are the first parent controls to come to the app. Details of the new Family Centre were published in a blog post by Snap Inc, Snapchat’s parent company. Here’s what parents and teens should know about it.

What is Family Centre?

Family Centre is a feature built into the Snapchat app itself, meaning that as long as you have a Snapchat account, you can use it without downloading or installing anything extra on your device.

Its purpose, according to the company, is to “help parents get more insight” on their childrens’ behaviour on the app. Basically, it will allow parents to see who their kids are friends with on the app and who they have communicated with over the past seven days.

Family Centre gives parents a glimpse through the window of their teens’ online world. But the new view is a bit obstructed — parents cannot see the actual content of their kids’ conversations.

How does Family Centre work?

First of all, the Family Centre feature will only monitor Snapchat users who are ages 13 to 18 — anyone younger than that isn’t allowed to use Snapchat, according to the platform’s terms of service and in accordance to US regulations. Meanwhile, the parent/guardian wishing to monitor a teen’s account must be at least 25 years old. So if a user doesn’t have their true age/birthday on their profile, it could affect their ability to use the feature.

Parents and children must also be mutual friends on Snapchat for Family Centre to work. Then, teens must accept their parent’s request for monitoring on their end in the app.

If they do, parents can see a list of their teens’ Snapchat friends, who they have talked to in the last week and report any suspicious or abusive accounts if necessary.

“Family Centre is designed to reflect the way that parents engage with their teens in the real world, where parents usually know who their teens are friends with and when they are hanging out – but don’t eavesdrop on their private conversations,” the blog post said.

Why did Snapchat release new parental controls?

The dangers of an app that allows anyone to communicate, and for their messages and photos to disappear forever after receiving them, have raised eyebrows for parents and Internet safety activists for years. Snapchat is most teens’ favourite social media platform, according to a 2021 survey of 10,000 of them.

Similar platforms like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok have also come under scrutiny for the practices they use to get users hooked on their apps.

In February, that pressure escalated when the Kids Online Safety Act was introduced in Congress, with the goal of forcing social media companies to give parents more control over things like screen time and data usage, but the proposal hasn’t advanced.

Snapchat said in its blog post that in the fall, the company plans “on adding additional features to Family Centre, including new content controls for parents and the ability for teens to notify their parents when they report an account or a piece of content to us.”

Are tools like Family Centre enough to protect teens?

Features like Family Centre might be an improvement in protecting and monitoring kids’ social media, one online safety advocate told NPR that such a tool might not be realistic for all parents.

“Are you going to spend 20 minutes a day figuring out what’s going on in Snap and another 20 minutes on TikTok and another 20 on Instagram?” said Josh Golin, executive director of child safety nonprofit FairPlay. ”I don’t think that parents particularly want to be spending their time this way. What they would prefer to see is that these platforms take real steps to be safer by design.”

Snapchat said it plans to keep adding to and improving the features of Family Centre.

“Our goal is to help empower parents and teens in a way that still protects a teenager’s autonomy and privacy,” said Snapchat in the statement. “We look forward to continuing to work closely with families and online safety experts to keep improving Family Center over time.” – The Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service

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