Facebook are currently piloting a new messaging app in the US, aimed at under 13s. The Messenger Kids app is designed to be a form of communication for kids who are too young to have a social media account.
Promoted as a way for friends and family to stay in touch, the app uses pictures, text and video chat in the same way the original Facebook Messenger app does. The app is stand alone but links to a parent’s Facebook account to facilitate parental control.
There has been much debate about whether a social media type app aimed at kids so young is a good or bad thing.
Here are some of the arguments for and against:
Pros of Messenger Kids app
- Parental controls – This is one of the main features of the app. Parents approve who the child connects with. In fact, you need to be FB friends with the parent of any child who wants to connect with your child through the app (some may see this as a negative!)
- Permanent chat history – Unlike platforms such as Snapchat, messages are unable to be deleted by either party, only parents. This may deter bullying or sharing of inappropriate content and allows parents to review communication.
- No ads, in-app purchases or data sharing with other apps – Apart from link to parent’s FB account.
- Kid–friendly functionality – Age appropriate stickers, stamps, GIFs, frames and drawing features let kids get creative and have fun with their messaging.
- Age appropriate introduction to social media – the app enables parents to guide and supervise kids as they start communicating online.
- Helps develop digital literacy skills – Experts in favour of the app tout it as a good, safe way of children to develop these essential skills.
Cons of Messenger Kids app
- Bullying and inappropriate content still a risk – Despite parental controls, there is still a risk of your child receiving distressing messages from friends. Bullying is pervasive and can happen anywhere.
- May contribute to impaired development of social skills – Child development experts warn that a focus on online communication can hinder the development of a child’s face to face social skills. This is because they are missing out on reading important social cues such as body language and tone of voice.
- Encouraging screen use/addiction – Critics claim such apps add to the growing issue of screen addiction.
As with all things, the use of such an app is at parental discretion.
Despite the age restriction of 13 for most social media platforms, there are already a growing number of children under this age using apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Messenging apps such as Kik and Whatsapp are also used by many kids to stay in touch with their friends and family. There are also in-built chat functions on many popular games such as Minecraft.
On face value the Messenger Kids sounds like it would provide a more secure platform for kids to communicate online, while giving parents peace of mind through parental controls.
While the app is only available currently in iOS devices in the US, it is anticipated for wider release in late 2017/early 2018.