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89% of the UK’s internet users know what Snapchat is. It’s one of the most popular social media platforms and is widely used by young people to send ‘disappearing’ pictures, videos, and messages. Parents and carers have been asking the platform for more parental controls for years. They want to understand more about how those in their care use the app while also keeping them safer. After nearly one year in development, the promised parental control feature has finally arrived – Snapchat Family Center.
We have tested this new online safety tool to help parents and carers understand how it works, its potential risks and benefits, and our advice for how to use it most effectively.
It’s worth noting that Snapchat are planning to make additions and changes to this feature over the coming months. Our online safety experts will track updates as they happen, but some of the information in this article may be subject to change.
Snapchat is a social media platform used to share photos, messages, and short videos that can be customised with filters, text, and stickers. It has 347 million daily active users worldwide, with under 18s making up 23% of users.
Many of Snapchat’s features (such as streaks, SnapMap, and Meet Up) use persuasive design components to ensure users spend as much time on the app as possible. It is especially popular with young people, who use it to communicate with their friends throughout the day.
By default, Snapchat does not allow users under 18 to have public profiles. Teenagers must be mutual friends with another before they can start communicating on the platform. Any over 18 accounts must also have ‘mutual friends’ with an under 18 account in order to have appear as a suggested friend.
What is Family Center?
Family Center is the latest addition to Snapchat’s existing parental controls. According to Snapchat, this new feature aims to provide parents and carers with “a window into their teen’s online life.” The platform hopes this will help parents and carers feel more comfortable with the app and the way those in their care use it. Simultaneously, it promises to allow young people to interact in an environment that “prioritises their safety, privacy, and well-being.”
Mainly, this feature allows parents and carers to see who their young person is communicating with on Snapchat – without revealing any content from the conversations themselves.
You can access the Family Center by entering it into the Search Bar (top left corner of the screen) or by visiting your account settings (top right corner of the screen) and scrolling down to ‘Privacy Controls’.
How does it work?
In order for Family Center to work between two linked accounts, the parent/carer account must be registered as over the age of 25 while the young person’s account must be registered between the ages of 13-18. It is against Snapchat’s Terms and Conditions for a user under the age of 13 to register for an account.
Important! Young people must accept both their parent/carer’s friend request and Family Center invitation in order for this feature to be effective.
Install Snapchat onto their device and create an account.
Send a friend request to their young person (and have it accepted).
Invite their young person to join their Family Center (and have it accepted).
Once the accounts are linked, parents and carers will be able to:
View the names on a young person’s friends list (otherwise not viewable).
Identify which accounts the young person has been messaging (in the last 7 days).
Report any potential abuse to the platform’s Trust and Safety Team (for review).
Parents and carers will not be able to see the content of any messages or Snaps, friend emojis associated with each account (e.g. 💛 for a user’s top best friend), or any messaging history older than 7 days.
You should never force the young person in your care into adding you as a friend on Snapchat or using Family Center.
They may feel you are trying to ‘spy’ on them and could react in frustration or anger. Remember – this reaction does not mean they are doing anything wrong on the platform. They may just want you, as their parent or carer, to respect their right to private communication with their friends. If you are interested in using Family Center, have an honest discussion with the young person in your care about its benefits. You may even want to detail rules or explain exactly what you would be able to see to help them feel more comfortable.
While testing Family Center, our online safety experts found that any user can change their DOB on the platform without verifying their age. This means users could easily lie about or alter their age in order to get out of (or be included in) the feature’s age limits.
There is currently no effective way for any user to prove their familial relationship with another user in the feature. This means that it could be used as a way for those in abusive or controlling relationships to exert influence over a vulnerable person by ‘keeping tabs’.
As parents and carers are unable to see the content of the messages or Snaps their young person is sent, there is no way to know if they contain anything that might be inappropriate or harmful for the young person receiving them.
This feature relies on a young person to be honest about how they use Snapchat, which they may not be comfortable with. It is difficult, but not impossible, to create a secondary Snapchat account (similar to ‘Finstas’) or to save certain people under ‘fake’ names. Parents/carers also may not know enough about their young person’s friends (e.g. names, relationships, etc.) to know if in-app behaviour seems irregular, which could mean abuse goes unnoticed.
If you are interested in setting up Family Center with those in your household, start a conversation about what that looks like. Explain why it interests you and listen to your young person’s thoughts. It may even be helpful to establish a set of rules to ensure everyone’s privacy is respected.
As you are unable to see what your young person is sharing, outline what they should and shouldn’t be sharing. Remind them of the importance of knowing (and trusting) who they share with. No one, not even friends, should be screenshotting or saving photos without their consent.
This will help them understand exactly how their images belong to them and ensure safer sharing with others across all platforms. Even ‘disappearing’ images and videos apply to this principle, especially with screenshots and secondary device recording becoming easier.
If the young person in your care seems to spend a lot of time on their device or can’t seem to ‘switch off’ when engaging in other activities, try creating screen-free boundaries for your whole house (e.g. no phones during family dinner) to help them create downtime space.
Start asking about their online life in the same way you ask about their day-to-day offline activities. Knowing you acknowledge this as a part of their world will help them feel more comfortable opening up. If not to you, ensure they have a Trusted Adult who can help them.
Visit our Online Safety Centre for up to date information about the privacy controls available on today’s popular platforms.