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Snapchat releases ‘Family Center,’ allows parent supervision — but is it enough?

Do teenagers deserve privacy from parents online?

SHARE Snapchat releases ‘Family Center,’ allows parent supervision — but is it enough?
The Snapchat app on a mobile device in New York on Aug. 9, 2017.

The Snapchat apps on a mobile device in New York on Aug. 9, 2017.

Richard Drew, Associated Press

Social platforms are giving parents tools that help them gain more information about what their kids are doing online. But while they are allowing moms and dads to know some aspects of their teens’ online activity, some draw the line at giving complete access.

Snapchat has just released a new tool called Family Center to “help foster collaboration and trust between parents and teens.” Similar to Instagram’s Family Center, if parents want to have some supervision over their child’s account, the teen will have to OK it first.

Snapchat described its decision to format it this way with an explanation I had never considered. It said Family Center will work similarly to how parents engage with their kids in real life. Moms and dads know their teens’ friends and are likely aware when they are hanging out. But, for the most part, parents do not eavesdrop on their teenager’s private conversations.

In other words, Snapchat will allow parents to see who their teens are friends with on Snapchat and who they’re communicating with, but will not be able to view the content of those conversations.

Is this enough parental oversight? For some, it will be plenty. For others, not nearly enough. And no one knows their kids and what restrictions they need better than moms and dads. The people at Snapchat did nail it, though. I don’t stick my ear to the door in order to eavesdrop on my son and his friends when they’re at our home. I give them that privacy, so why would I feel the need and right to view all of his online conversations?

My parenting in regards to monitoring my kids’ phones has evolved over time. This phenomenon is not new. I would guess most parents are more strict and likely have a more watchful eye on their first child than with subsequent ones. My older children, who are now in college, were experimenting with social networking when a lot of it was rather new. They got their first iPhone 4s the same year Snapchat launched stories in 2013. 

Most social networks had few to no options for parents who wanted to set limits on how their teens used them. Needless to say, I placed many more restrictions and all out bans on certain social networks for my older kids than for my youngest, who is still at home.

Since there were zero parental controls available, I would have them charge their phones in my room at night so I could peruse freely through all their social networking and even private text messages. Once in a while, I would have a discussion with them about anything I saw that was concerning. 

Since phone manufacturers have added all sorts of parental controls since then, I don’t currently ask my son to charge his phone in my room at night. Occasionally I look through the phone and we still have frequent conversations about the safe use of technology.

Snapchat is going all-in with its theme of allowing teens to maintain some privacy on its app with Family Center.

The company says it already has several protections in place for young people. Teens are not allowed to have public profiles and must be mutual friends with someone before they can communicate. And those under 18 will only show up as a suggested friend or in search results to someone with a mutual friend.

Parents must have their own account, be friends with their teen on the app and then invite them to use Family Center. If their child agrees, moms and dads will be able to see who their teens’ friends are on Snapchat and which ones they’ve had conversations with in the past week. Parents can confidentially report accounts that may be concerning and soon, Snapchat says parents will easily be able to view any new friends their child has added. Family Center will automatically disable when a child turns 18 years old.

Parents cannot view the contents of any conversations or read their kids’ chat history.

How much control a parent wants over their individual child’s Snapchat usage will vary. Moms and dads will need to consider the maturity of their teen and how smart they have shown to be with their social media as they consider how to move forward. This minimal parental oversight may be enough for some, but not nearly enough for others.