• Snapchat’s Family Center lets parents keep tabs on their kids, but with some distance.
  • You might not think your kids need privacy, but they certainly do.
  • Communication and research are key to keeping your kids safe online.

Snapchat's family center on smartphone

Snapchat's new child-safety tools consider something often ignored when it comes to parenting: the kid's privacy.

Snap’s Family Center adds new parental monitoring features, but with a twist. To start, both parent and child have to agree to enable it. Then, once it’s up and running, the parent can see who their kid is communicating with and when, but they can’t see the messages themselves. Also—coming soon—is a feature that lets parents view any new friends their kids add. It seems to be a pretty good balance between the interests of the involved parties. 

“Throughout human history, parents knew that once their kids walked through the front door, they were safe. But the internet changed this, and social media has made it worse,” Andrew Selepak, a social media professor at the University of Florida, told Lifewire via email. “The danger for parents is that they don’t know who their kids are talking to or what they’re looking at when they are on social media.”

Expectation of Privacy

Let's back up a second. Should kids even expect privacy online? After all, they're just kids, right?

“As a parent and data privacy attorney specifically specializing in children’s online privacy, I have dual trains of thought,” Ryan Johnson, chief privacy officer, corporate counsel at Savvas Learning Co, told Lifewire via email. “Children have no reasonable expectation of privacy from their parents, but should have elevated privacy from online apps, service providers, and advertisers.”

On the one hand, as a parent, it's easy to expect that you should be in charge of, and have access to, every aspect of your child's life. On the other hand, they're still human, and even if they lack the experience to make informed decisions, that doesn't necessarily mean they should expect a panopticon. After a certain age, you leave your kids alone in their own space while keeping an eye on things. Why not online, too?

“There are ways for parents to use the app to keep an eye on their kids without invading their privacy,” Mo Mulla, parenting expert and founder of the Parental Questions blog, told Lifewire via email. “For example, parents can create a Snapchat account and add their children as friends, then watch their stories and snaps to get a sense of what they’re up to.”

Communication

It's easy to park your kids in front of a screen to get a much-needed break, but screens are no longer passive pacifiers. In fact, they require even more work from parents. It's all about communication—explaining why you need to know what they are doing and agreeing on ways to do it.

Even if you don't think your kids have a right to any online privacy, doing it this way means they may be more likely to actually comply with your requirements instead of agreeing to them and then ignoring them. 

“As parents, we have to get ahead of the apps and the issues by creating a culture of communication around the topic in an open, honest, judgment-free zone because kids are killing themselves over these preventable mistakes,” kindergarten teacher, sexual abuse prevention advocate and expert, and author Kimberly King told Lifewire via email. 

There are ways for parents to use the app to keep an eye on their kids without invading their privacy

Before you can have this conversation, though, Selepak says you need to know what the dangers are and even what platforms kids are using. 

"And then they can decide how they want to monitor what their child does on social media and who they talk to on there," adds Selepak.

Johnson, the data privacy attorney, agrees. "The challenge for parents is keeping up with all the various online platforms their children are using. Parents should proactively monitor their children's online presence, as well as make it known to their children that they are doing so."

The days of dumping the kids in front of the TV or a DVD are over. Now, screens require just as much—if not more—from parents than looking after their kids in the real world.

Welcome to the future, where technology was supposed to make things easier.

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