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Snapchat unveils new parental tool to help monitor teen activity on the app

"Family Center" will allow parents to see who their kids connect with on Snapchat.
/ Source: TODAY

Snapchat has been around for a decade and the company reports that 99 million people per day use the popular social media app in North America. In the United States, 20 percent of those users are under 18, and until now, parents had no way of monitoring what their children might be doing on the app.

That changed today when the company announced "Family Center" — a tool for parents to gain insight into who their child or teen is connecting with on Snapchat.

"We have a responsibility to make sure teens are safe and healthy on Snapchat," Nona Farahnik Yadegar, the director of platform policy and social impact at Snapchat, told NBC News senior national correspondent Kate Snow.

Starting today, parents and teens ages 13 to 18 can opt into Snapchat's "Family Center."

"As soon as a parent and teen opt into Family Center, the parent immediately gets access to the teen’s friends list, the people the teen has communicated with over the last seven days, and new friends, that the teen has made as well," Farahnik Yadegar told Snow.

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Parents will be able to see the screen names of who their kids are friends with, but not what kids might be saying to each other. Farahnik Yadegar said the tool is meant to emulate real life.

"If your teen has friends over in the basement to play video games, you might know who they’re down there playing video games with, but you wouldn’t be sitting in the room, listening to their conversation," Farahnik Yadegar explained. "With 'Family Center', we really wanted to balance parental insight into their teens’ life, while really preserving autonomy and privacy for the teen themselves."

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Asked if Snapchat is weighing the privacy of teens over the rights of parents to see what their kids are doing, Farahnik Yadegar said “I would disagree with the notion that we’re really tilting in one way or the other. And I think what we’re really trying to do is bring-- a real world sensibility into-- online life.”

If a parent has concerns about someone their teen is following, the parent has the ability to report the account and Snapchat says it will respond quickly.

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Snapchat told Snow they've been developing the tool for more than a year and have consulted with parents and safety groups like "Protect Young Eyes."

Chris McKenna, father of four and founder of “Protect Young Eyes," told Snow his perspective on both parents and teens having to opt into the feature for it to work.

"There is the conversation that needs to take place between parents and young people. I like that feature, because I think it forces parents to talk to their kids," McKenna told Snow of Snapchat's newest feature. "If a child says no, that’s worthy of a conversation."

The social media app, which launched in 2012, defended not creating the control sooner.

"We were really deliberate about building 'Family Center' in a way that would allow us to bring something to market with the fact that we wanted to really know what would be useful to parents and their teens," Farahnik Yadegar explained. "So we spent over a year on Family Center — plenty of time to be able to talk to online experts in safety, in wellness, and to parents — about what they hope to see on Snapchat."

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the founder of 'Protect Young Eyes'. The correct name is Chris McKenna.