A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this app.
What parents need to know
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's it about?
MESSENGER KIDS is an app that lets parents approve all of their kids' contacts so that kids can send messages or have live video chats with approved people. Essentially, it's social media training wheels for the next generation of Facebook users. After downloading, someone with an existing Facebook account has to log in. That account is then linked to the kid's and becomes the gatekeeper for approval of all contacts. The kid or parent needs to enter a name and provide a photo for the kid's profile, though the photo doesn't need to be of the kid. If kids want to request a specific contact, they can send a request to their parent, who can approve or deny it; parents can also just add to their kid's contacts from their own Facebook contact list. Kids can also share an app-generated, four-word passphrase for their friend to enter, but parents still need to approve the connection. Once they have contacts, kids can send text, photos, videos, and GIFs and access filters, similar to Snapchat. As the app learns how kids use it, their contact list will show the people they connect with most often on top, and kids can create groups. Kids can use the app on their own device or on their gatekeeper's phone. If kids are using it on their own phone, parents can't see what kids send in a separate app or in their own feed; they can, however, look in Messenger Kids to see what kids send, since there's no way to delete messages. If kids are using Messenger Kids on their parent's phone, they'll have access to all the photos and videos on that device. Within the Facebook app Explore section, parents can find the Messenger Kids area, where they can add contacts and switch between kids' accounts. It's unclear how many accounts a parent can create, but they can add another parent. When people contact a kid through Messenger, they don't have access to all of the GIFs and content that they would normally; they can only send photos and video from their own devices. There's also a Sleep Mode that parents can set so that kids don't have access to the app during set times.
Is it any good?
Approving all contacts in a kid-safe messaging app sounds appealing, but there's probably more to consider. Messenger Kids has all the fun features that tweens can't wait to use: live photo filters like Snapchat, video chatting, GIFs, and more. And since parents get to approve and add all of the contacts, it's relatively low-risk in terms of chatting with strangers or encountering really iffy content. That said, there are other things to consider. There's a missed opportunity to help kids navigate social media safely and help them learn to be good digital citizens: With a few reminders to be kind, think before they post, and know how to block people, Messenger Kids could help get kids ready for teen social media use. And in terms of content, it's important to note that kids -- and their contacts -- can take pictures of anything, download photos and videos to their camera roll, and share them, so there's no guarantee that everything shared will be kid-appropriate.
As for the bigger picture, because Facebook states that it collects and stores the content of the messages sent by kids and also monitors their app usage (like who your kid contacts most), there are some concerning questions around exactly what happens to that data and how secure it is. Also, it's no secret that Facebook is in direct competition with Snapchat, which is snapping up lots of younger users, so assuming that they're trying to hook kids early and eventually convert them into full Facebook users isn't much of a stretch. Along those lines -- and considering how many kid-safe messaging apps have come and gone -- ultimately, kids will want to be where the cool teens are, so it's unclear whether the alternatives will ever really gain enough users to make them fun. Finally, the bigger question for parents is how early we want our kids to start using messengers, kid-safe or not: If they're used as training wheels with lots of parent interaction and discussion, there could be some benefit in getting kids ready for the full-fledged social apps. But there's also an argument for keeping them -- and their data -- out of the mixed-bag world of social media entirely until they're ready for its challenges.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about interacting safely and kindly online with apps like Messenger Kids. How did we choose your contacts? Why did we pick those people? What types of messages is it OK to send? What should you avoid?
Talk to kids about your limits around sending messages. How often can they send messages? What are the times and places when they need to unplug?
Discuss types of communication and what works best for different situations. What kind of communication works best in a messaging app? What's best over the phone or in person?
For kids who love social networking
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