Snapchat Introduces New Parental Controls (But your teen has to give you permission!)

How the App's New Controls Don’t Make the Cut

Words by
Danielle Stahle

SEP 08, 2022

Snapchat Introduces New Parental Controls (But your teen has to give you permission!)

How the App's New Controls Don’t Make the Cut

Parents typically feel more peace of mind if their kids use apps with security features and parent controls.

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    As a team, with the other parents in your circle and your school’s administration, we can protect even more kids.

In response, Snapchat recently launched an in-app Family Center tool to tout its new parental control features. 

However, the addition leaves much to be desired. Parents are right to feel unsure if their child will be safe on Snapchat. 

Are you going to spend 20 minutes a day figuring out what’s going on in Snap, another 20 minutes on TikTok, and another 20 on Instagram? I don’t think parents particularly want to spend their time this way. What they would prefer to see is that these platforms take real steps to be safer by design.

—Josh Golin, Executive Director for Fairplay [1]

In this attempt to make Snapchat safe for kids, let’s look at the new features and risks it brings.

Illustration of a large happy family

Snapchat Releases New Family Center Tool on Snapchat

On August 9th, 2022, Snapchat released its first in-app parental control tool, the Family Center.

While other social media platforms have incorporated variations of parental control features into their platforms over the past few years, Snapchat—always devoted to the privacy of its users—has been slow in joining the ranks.

So does this long-awaited release benefit parents looking to keep their teens safe? Not really. If applied to in-person interactions, these safeguards might work, but in an online space, they allow for harmful interactions.

Family Center 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.

— [4]

Additional options will be forthcoming that will (hopefully) provide more useful features. Nevertheless, it’s a step in the right direction for now. 

How to access the new Family Center tool

For parents to access Family Center, they must first create a personal Snapchat account. This may be a hurdle for those not previously on the social media platform. 

Once a Snapchat account is created, parents can access Family Center through two paths: typing in the search bar or clicking the settings gear icon.

Once you’re connected to your child’s account via the Family Center, parental control features can be used.

Kids call the shots!

    Your teen must agree to your invitation to join Family Center and opt-in to link their account to yours.

Parents can only link to their children’s accounts for kids 13-18 years old. 

Teens have all the control

It’s important to note that kids can leave the group anytime, even after your child has agreed to connect on Snapchat and be part of the Family Center.

Kids can leave the Family Center group anytime.

You, as a parent, will receive a notification that your child has left, but will not be able to require your child to stay in the family group.

This can begin a dialogue between you and your child again, but there is no way to assure they’ll always be linked to your Snapchat account.

yellow lock with two purple keys

What Controls Are Available to Parents?

According to Snap, Inc., these controls were created to “empower parents and teens in a way that still protects a teenager’s autonomy and privacy” and were developed through collaboration between families and online safety experts. [3]

Parents cannot read messages

Snapchat’s parental controls allow parents to see their teen’s friend list, view who they have been messaging over the last seven days (but not the content or images exchanged), and provide guardians to confidentially report accounts to Snap that offend, cause concern, or violate the community guidelines. [3]

These features can help parents better understand whom their child is talking to regularly through Snapchat.

The hope is that this information can generate more natural conversations between parents and teens about their friends and whom they’re getting to know. 

Helpful Family Center information parents can download

Within the Family Center, parents can download useful information sources.

In Settings, click the top banner entitled “Learn More in the Quick Start Guide for Parents and Guardians.”

You will find more information about the app, learn how to navigate it, and see other informative tips.

Towards the bottom of that screen, parents can click on their language and download a Parent Guide to Snapchat

This guide includes information about the basics of Snapchat, frequently asked questions, how to use its top features, privacy principles, helpful safety tips, wellness resources, conversation starters for parents, and a glossary of terms used on the app.

The guide is currently available in 40 languages, with more being translated for release soon. 

illustration of people overcoming physical obstacles like a brick wall

Limits and Obstacles to Snapchat Parental Controls

Snapchat’s parental controls are evolving, and more features are yet to be released. 

As it stands now, the greatest asset of these features lies in the encouragement of parents and teens to begin conversations they might not otherwise have.

Conversations about their child’s friend lists, whom they’re interacting with online, and how to keep parents involved in their lives are the focus. 

The most concerning aspect of parental control features is the false sense of security associated with the promise of protecting children.

In trying to provide greater online safety for teens and more transparency and information for parents, Snapchat has taken a calculated step forward. However, it’s not enough.

Limits and Obstacles to Snapchat’s Parental Controls

  • The burden of reporting accounts and enforcement of rules falls on parents
  • No parental access to snaps or messages that may contain inappropriate content or images
  • No alert feature—requires parent’s constant monitoring
  • Teens must opt-in to Family Center for controls to be active
  • Teens can leave Family Center at any time
  • Teens can create multiple Snapchat accounts but only link one of them to the Family Center

Critics have argued that the new parental control features emphasize teen privacy over their safety and the rights of parents to know their children’s conversations. 

Others have wondered what has taken Snapchat so long to incorporate any safety measures for teens [2] and question the practicality of the controls. [1]

The most concerning aspect of parental control features is the false sense of security associated with the promise of protecting children.

happy family hugging holding up a cellphone

Focusing on What Parents Can Do

Parents should feel empowered to say “Not yet” to their children. We can explain to them that, just like driving a car, learning how to be safe on social media takes a long time.

To learn how to drive, we watch and talk about it, not get behind the wheel and take a spin. The same applies to social media.

Using platforms like Snapchat side by side, noticing dangers and talking about them, and explaining the risks to mental health and wellbeing will prepare kids to one day use social media safely or choose not to have it at all.

Having any measure of parental controls on social media platforms is helpful but not foolproof. The best of all parental control features will not be what ultimately helps our children navigate technology’s dangers and rewards.

Parents can best help their children by having frequent conversations regarding the risks of cyberbullying and sextortion on social media platforms and introducing them to tech in steps.

We can help our children realize that every piece of information shared on the internet is subject to data collection and distribution by social media companies and that their digital lives need to be safeguarded as much as their physical lives. 

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