On December 4, 2017, Facebook announced its new Facebook app for kids in the United States; Messenger Kids. The intent of this new product is to allow children under 13 years of age (no lower age limit) to video chat and and message with family and friends that are approved by the parents. The app can be installed on the child’s tablet but managed by the parent via their personal Facebook account.
When the child opens the app, they first see all the approved people that they can connect with on their screen, and they will know who is online. At that point, the child can connect with their friend or relative. There are fun tools such as stickers, masks and drawing tools to enhance the child’s experience with the app.
There are no ads, no in-app purchases and your child’s information is not used for ads. Messenger Kids is also designed to be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA).
The way Facebook describes their new Messenger Kids kind of sounds like an updated version of a child calling a friend or relative on the telephone, but with certain technologically advanced features. But it really is more than just that.
Children’s health experts and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) are concerned about the health issues that may arise in developing children if they start using social media while too young. The CCFC sent a letter signed by more than 100 leading child development experts and advocates urging Mark Zuckerberg to put kids’ wellbeing first and scrap Messenger Kids. Here are some of the valid concerns that the CCFC highlighted:
The app has no minimum age, and its emojis, colorful stickers, and animations are designed to draw and hold children’s attention even if they’re too young to type.
A growing body of research links social media use by adolescents with depression, poor sleep habits, and unhealthy body image. Younger children are even less equipped to deal with the interpersonal challenges and addictive power of social media.
The “fun” design and anticipation of friends’ responses will keep children coming back to their devices.Moving friendships online displaces the face-to-face interactions crucial for developing empathy and healthy relationships.
The CCFC also started a petition urging the public to show their support in requesting that Facebook scrap Messenger Kids right away. So far, within just a few mere hours of launching their petition, the CCFC has already collected over 300 signatures.
Personally, I will keep my kids off Messenger Kids. When my younger children want to call or video chat with grandma or with a little buddy, I’ll just take a minute or so to help them set up the video chat or call from my laptop. That way, the amount of time is limited (although they often chat with grandma for a good hour, but that’s quality time, right?) but more importantly, they won’t be tempted to make calls whenever they see that somebody is online. That could quickly become a real nuisance for the person on the other end.
You can follow the hashtag #NoFBKids to read and engage with others who have an opinion on this topic.