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Dec 5, 2021

Is Messenger Kids safe for kids? App Safety Guide for parents

Qustodio team

Qustodio team

Experts in digital safety

Is Messenger Kids safe for children

Many of our conversations now take place online: through video messaging, chat applications, and social media. Our hyper-connected world offers us multiple ways to grow closer with our family and friends, and being able to catch up with our loved ones at the touch of a button is certainly one of the huge advantages of technology.

It’s only natural, of course, that our kids now want to do the same. But when you’re a parent of young children, the idea of them chatting and messaging online can seem daunting. Enter Facebook’s Messenger Kids: a free video calling and messaging app designed for under 13s. While a messaging app “Made for children, controlled by parents” might sound like a good way for your kids to stay in touch with friends and family, for many parents, the connection with Facebook is enough to raise questions (and eyebrows).

What privacy does Messenger Kids offer? How does Messenger Kids work? And, most importantly: Is Messenger Kids safe for kids?

Facebook Messenger Kids app ratings

Qustodio: 8+ at parents’ discretion, but with close monitoring

Apple: 4+

Android: Everyone (content is generally suitable for all ages)

What is Messenger Kids?

Facebook’s Messenger Kids is a video calling and messaging app designed with children in mind. Kids can keep in touch with selected friends and family members, and make use of fun features such as stickers, filters, and drawing tools. 

But how does Messenger Kids work? Facebook requires children to be at least 13 before they can open an account, so how can they use the kids’ chat application before that?

Here’s the workaround: Messenger Kids doesn’t require your child to have a Facebook account or telephone number, as it uses your login credentials to authenticate your child’s device. As a parent, you download the Messenger Kids app onto your child’s phone or tablet, then authorize the download through your own Facebook app. This link to your child’s Messenger Kids application will allow you to have a certain amount of control over how your child interacts on the app. 

What do kids like about Messenger Kids?

Kids love messaging apps for the very same reason you do – it’s an opportunity to socialize! Children love engaging with their friends list on Messenger Kids. The app also has a group chat feature, which allows children to stay part of the conversation and not feel left out, whether it’s with friends or family members. They can also make use of a wide range of stickers, filters, and drawing tools designed with kids in mind.

Is Messenger Kids safe for kids?

As Messenger Kids requires parent involvement every step of the way, it’s not an app that allows your child to be secretive, or which puts them at risk of stranger interactions. 

Messenger Kids gives you full control over your child’s account. Once you’ve signed your child up, you have access to a “Parent dashboard”. Here, you can control your child’s contact list, approve or deny contact requests, download any of your child’s conversations, and log your child out of the app remotely. 

Other features of Messenger Kids include:

 

  • No ads or in-app purchases
  • No “delete” functionality (kids can’t get rid of messages or chats)
  • A log of all images they have sent or received
  • A log of all the time they spend in the app 
  • Time limit restrictions
Messenger Kids is it safe for children
As with any social application, parents should be aware that children using Messenger Kids could be at risk from cyberbullying, no matter their age. While Messenger Kids only allows your child to chat to an approved list of contacts, harassment or bullying could come from someone they know. While you can download your child’s chats at any point, the video functionality does not leave behind a recording, so you would never be able to witness your child’s videochat interactions, which could be concerning if they experienced bullying or harassment. 

One advantage of Messenger Kids in this sense is that your child can report or block users, and you’ll receive an alert when they do. This means you can talk to your child about the reasons why they decided to block someone if it happens, making it easier for you as a family to get to the root of the problem.

As a parent, you might also hesitate to allow your child to use social media apps at a young age. While Messenger Kids is a much more restricted version of Facebook’s regular Messenger service, problems associated with social media use, such as addiction, could be a concern. One way to combat this type of problem would be to create a list of rules and boundaries surrounding use of Messenger Kids, and to use a parental control tool to set screen time limits, encouraging your child to engage online in a healthy way. 

Messenger Kids and privacy

In 2019 a technical error was detected with Messenger Kids, where strangers were able to access “a small number of group chats”, as confirmed by a Facebook representative. The error allowed children to create group chats with friends of friends – who technically were not on the parent-approved contact list. 

In addition, Messenger Kids can be installed on any device, and any adult can authorize use – parental consent is not verified, and you only need an adult with a Facebook account to grant access. Privacy groups in the USA have brought forward FTC complaints surrounding the app, both on the grounds that parental consent can be bypassed, and that the Facebook privacy policy allegedly allows Messenger Kids to pass or disclose data to third parties.

Qustodio’s final advice on Messenger Kids

When looking at the safety of individual online interactions, Messenger Kids is a relatively safe space for children to chat to their friends and family. As a parent, the app offers peace of mind, in that you can monitor your child’s conversations (except video chat) and encourage them to engage with technology in a positive manner. 

However, when it comes to how Messenger Kids deals with your child’s personal data, the privacy policy is vague. As there are no in-app purchases, Facebook does not use your child’s data for targeted ads, but it’s unclear how they do use the data. Their privacy policy states Facebook may share you or your child’s Personal Information for business purposes, but they do not state what these purposes are.

Additionally, before downloading Messenger Kids, as a parent, you may want to ask yourself: “How young is too young?” It is up to you and your family to decide on the appropriate age for your child to engage with chat applications, and when to allow them their first taste of social media. On the one hand, we live in a world where this type of interaction online is both normal and expected, while on the other, there are risks associated with digital communication which you may decide are not age appropriate: online harassment, trolling, and screen addiction

There’s no “right” age to start using chat applications, but now you understand more about how safe Messenger Kids is for your child, you’ll be able to make the most informed decision before hitting the download button. And, if you do decide to give them access, remember that the right monitoring tools, teamed with regular, honest and open communication about technology will go a long way towards keeping them safe online.

How can Qustodio help protect your family?

Qustodio is the best way to keep your kids safe online and help them create healthy digital habits. Our parental control tools ensure they don't access inappropriate content or spend too much time in front of their screens.