How to Use Snapchat's New Family Center Feature

Liz Repking, Founder of Cyber Safety Consulting

August 2022

Snapchat has quickly become one of the most popular messaging apps out there.

If you have a teen, there is a strong likelihood that he or she uses Snapchat to communicate with their friends, share their pictures and tell their story. Why the popularity? The app allows users to share pictures and videos, called a ‘Snap’, that are intended to disappear after they are viewed. More specifically, the initial attraction was that it is fun to take a picture, add filters, lenses and other effects and then send this fun snap to friends.

Seems pretty innocent, except it is laced with challenges to younger users, i.e. tweens and teens. The idea that images ‘disappear’ creates a few difficulties for both kids and parents. For the kids, the disappearing snaps create a false sense of security that the image will not go any further than the intended recipient, which lends itself to riskier pictures than the child would ordinarily be comfortable sending. The other issue for kids is the idea that the image disappears. Is it really gone forever? Probably not. The recipient can take a screenshot of the picture and share it with other people without the original sender even knowing. For parents, the fact that the image disappears makes it impossible to monitor what kids are doing on the app. Essentially, there is no easily accessible record of what has been sent nor received by the child. This is a parent’s nightmare.

Snapchat, as well as many other social platforms, has been under intense pressure to increase safety for younger users. In response to this pressure, the platform has rolled out their in-app Family Center.

What is Snapchat’s Family Center?

Family Center allows parents to see who their kids are talking to while keeping the content of the conversations private. It's basically the online equivalent of watching your kid play with their friends in your front yard, as opposed to pressing your ear to their bedroom door or intercepting their mail. You know who they are playing with, but do not know what is being said. Parents, or caregivers, will be able to view their child's friends list, see which accounts they've been communicating with within the past week, and directly report suspicious accounts to Snapchat.

Will parents be able to see the images that are being sent and received?

No. Snapchat’s intent is to help parents gain more insight into WHO their kids are talking to on the platform, without disclosing what those communications are. According to Snapchat, “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.”

Do kids need to know that parents are using this new feature?

Yes. This new feature requires that both the child and the parent consent to the monitoring. Once a parent has been given access to monitor their child's account, they will be able to see a list of their child's friends and report anything they find suspicious.

Does a parent have to have a Snapchat account to access Family Center?

Yes. The first step to set up Family Center is to create your own Snapchat account. From there, go into settings and select Family Center and follow the prompts. Here is a video to help with setup.

What if my child refuses to opt in to Family Center?

This now shifts from a platform issue to a parenting issue. My recommendation would be to make opting in a condition of using the app. If your child refuses, work to establish conversation around the importance of safety and oversight. Try to understand what the fear is on the part of the child and talk through this. If you do not make progress through conversation, remember, as a parent you can remove the app from the device.

What if my child has a 2nd Snapchat account?

Unlike Instagram, second accounts are not common on Snapchat for two reasons. First, teens tend to use Snapchat as a one-to-one communication platform negating the need to create niche groups. Second, Snapchat does not allow a second account on the same email or phone number. If a second account is created, the teen will need to sign up with a different email or phone number. But they have to log out of one Snapchat account and then use another one to log in. It might seem like a tedious procedure, and it is.
Can the teen work around Family Center?

The most obvious ‘workaround’ is to refuse to opt in. As the parent, you will know this and need to address it. But if teens opt in, can they find ways to prevent it from letting parents know who they are communicating with? I don’t know just yet. This is new functionality, thus, there is no information about the work arounds. However, give it time. Every parental control eventually has a workaround discovered, usually by those motivated to bypass their parents.

This is a start and hopefully not the end. Snapchat, like all social media platforms, has a long way to go in providing safer platforms for teens to use. Certainly, better safety settings are needed. However, we still need to educate our children on safe and appropriate online behavior. No software or setting will ever fully protect our children online. Keep talking, watching, and stay involved in their online lives. Remember, parenting cannot be outsourced to software and settings.

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