Snappy Safe Settings
In August, Snapchat announced that it would introduce its first parental control tool. The new tool, Family Centre, aims at helping parents keep their teens safe. It lets parents view who their children are communicating with but crucially, it doesn’t allow them to see the contents of their kids' messages.
Snapchat already had some existing safety controls for its teenage members. By default, teens on the app must be mutual friends before they can message each other, and their friend’s lists are automatically private. But the new Family Centre goes a step further: it aims to mimic parent/teen interactions in the real world, where parents likely know their kids’ friends and even when they hang out—but they wouldn’t go so far as to eavesdrop on their teens’ private conversations.
This follows similar efforts made by Meta and Tiktok. In 2021, TikTok introduced stricter rules for users aged 13 to 15, limiting push notifications, changing download settings, and limiting who young teens can share their content with: allowing them a choice between their followers, friends, or only themselves.
Similarly, Instagram rolled out its own Family Centre earlier this year. Their version lets parents view how much time their teens spend on Instagram, set time limits, and view and receive updates on which accounts their teens follow and the accounts that follow their teens.
These new safeguards are part of a broader shift in how tech industries cater to their younger users as concerns about online privacy, abuse, screen addictions, and data collection continue to grow.
Alongside this, there is a simultaneous conversation about the nuances and ethics of parenting in the modern world. On one side, there is a genuine concern for the safety of young people—parents who are (rightly) concerned that their children might be exposed to an unsavoury side of the internet. On the other, there are the age-old issues of parent-child privacy and trust. Will knowing who their children are talking to on Snapchat really make their kids safer? Or will it just make parents feel better?
To further complicate the issue, there is the well known ‘finsta’ phenomenon (the name is an abbreviated portmanteau of Fake and Instagram), where teen users set up two social media accounts: a public, family friendly account that they show their parents, and a private (often less wholesome) account that is only for their friends. It poses an obvious problem for parents trying to monitor their Snapchat feeds, as they’ll only have access to the account with the version of their teen’s life that their teen wants them to see.
Privacy and internet safety are complicated issues with no single simple solutions—least of all when kids try to work around them anyway—but the fact that social media giants are implementing at least some options for online safety seems like a step in the right direction.