Snapchat launches parental controls to help manage teens' social media use Snapchat's Family Center lets parents see whom their teen is contacting, but not their messages. Parents can also confidentially report accounts that concern them, without their child's knowledge.

Snapchat's new parental controls try to mimic real-life parenting, minus the hovering

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Snapchat, the app popular among young people for its disappearing messages, is rolling out parental controls. The company behind Snapchat is giving parents a peek into what their teens do on the app but just a bit of a peek. It's part of a larger trend among social media companies, which are under pressure to show they're safe for young users. NPR's Raquel Maria Dillon has more.

RAQUEL MARIA DILLON, BYLINE: Atlanta mom Lori Harber knows a good part of her daughter's social life takes place online. And she welcomes the chance to better understand what her 15-year-old is doing on Snapchat.

LORI HARBER: I am shocked when I see how many people are on my daughter's Snap and who these people are.

DILLON: Harber has never met most of them. Her daughter doesn't know all of them in real life, either. And not all of her child's communications on Snapchat have been pleasant. Harber's just glad her daughter has good judgment.

HARBER: I mean, listen. When my daughter came to me and said that a boy asked her for pics - and we all know what they're asking for - she was smart enough to come to me.

DILLON: That's exactly the kind of mother-daughter talk that Snapchat's new parental controls are supposed to encourage, says Snap's Nona Farahnik. She's director of platform policy, and she says the app is trying to empower parents to help their teens without making young people feel like Mom or Dad are hovering, just like real-life parenting.

NONA FARAHNIK: If your teen is headed to the mall, you might know who they're going there with. You'd ask, how do you know them? Are you guys on a sports team together? Do you guys go to school together? But you won't be sitting there at the mall with them, listening to their conversation.

DILLON: Snapchat is hugely popular among teenagers, and the company doesn't want to alienate its users, which is why Snapchat's parental controls only work if kids choose to use them. They have to opt in for their parents to gain access to their list of contacts. Even then, parents can't see the disappearing messages, only who sent them and when. Snapchat is just the latest social media company to give parents more say in how their kids use apps. Irene Ly of Common Sense Media, which reviews apps for families, says there's a clear reason why.

IRENE LY: I think these platforms want to show that they do want to take steps to protect kids and that they're capable of doing it themselves, you know, that they can self-regulate without getting the government involved.

DILLON: She's skeptical that the tools will actually help parents and kids. So is Josh Golin, executive director at Fairplay, a group that advocates for children's privacy online. He says if social media companies were really concerned about young users, they'd make it easier for kids to put down their phones by offering fewer rewards - things like likes or badges or Snapchat's streaks.

JOSH GOLIN: Having a snap streak that you feel like, oh, my God, as a 12-year-old, my life is going to be over if I don't communicate with my friend today on Snapchat - I think that's fostering compulsion.

DILLON: Golin says that sort of behavior isn't good for kids, but it sure helps the companies, which get paid by advertisers for those eyeballs on their apps. I'm Raquel Maria Dillon, NPR News in San Francisco.


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