Snapchat is unveiling parental controls that will give detailed information about how teens use the app.
The social media platform is best known for its time-limited photos and videos. Anyone over the age of 13 can join – although public profiles are only permitted for users over the age of 18.
“At Snap, we believe that our products should reflect real-life human behaviors, and how people act and relate to each other in their everyday lives,” the company said in a statement published on Aug. 9. “We have always wanted Snapchatters to be able to genuinely express themselves and have fun with their friends in the same way they would if they were hanging out in person—without the pressure to grow a following, gain views, or earn likes.”
“Creating a safe and positive experience for them is critical to this mission,” Snapchat added. “While we want our platform to be safe for all members of our community, we have extra protections in place for teenagers.”
Through its new Family Center interface, parents or guardians can link their Snapchat profiles to their teenagers’ accounts – allowing them to view their friends list, keep track of who they are communicating with and report any instances of abuse.
The parental controls do not allow for complete control or access to teens’ profiles. For example, Snapchat will not allow parents to read teens’ messages. The software also requires parents and teens to each opt-in and connect with one another on the app.
Once a minor reaches the age of 18, the parental controls will automatically turn off.
“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,” said Snapchat.
As of January 2022, the majority of Snapchat’s users (39%) were between the ages of 18 to 24. The second highest proportion of users (21%) were between the ages of 13 and 17. The app is particularly popular among teenage girls, who represent about 11% of the platform’s users.
Snapchat has consistently been ranked as one of the most popular social media platforms among teens since 2016, surpassing Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
In 2021, over one in three teenagers said Snapchat was their favorite social media app. Teens have called Snapstreaks, a measure of how many consecutive days users two users “snap” each other, addictive. The feature encourages daily use and streaks are considered an indication of close friendship.
Parents have expressed concerns about the app’s best-known feature — deleting photos and videos after they are viewed by a recipient. The disappearing content is nearly impossible for parents to monitor but could still be saved via a screenshot by a receiver. This gives another teen – possibly an adult communicating with a minor – sole control of an image.
“Because of the lower risks of having a photo eventually making the rounds of the Internet, it’s also tempting for teens to use Snapchat for sexting,” VeryWell Family noted in a report. “Snapchat itself admits that up to 25% of users may send sensitive content on a regular basis ‘experimentally.’”
Concerns about the dangers of Snapchat and other social media platforms, including TikTok, came up during a Senate hearing in October, where lawmakers asked tech executives what steps they were taking to ensure the safety of underage users.
“The problem is clear: Big Tech preys on children and teens to make more money,” Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts said during the Senate Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection hearing.
Jennifer Stout, vice president for global public policy of Snapchat parent Snap Inc., told the committee that the platform relies on humans to moderate content, unlike other platforms which use artificial intelligence.
“Today, Snapchat is a central communications tool for young people, and as our community continues to grow, we know parents and caregivers want additional ways to help keep their teens safe,” the platform said.