Experts in digital safety
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
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?
Is Messenger Kids safe for kids?
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
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.
Qustodio’s final advice on Messenger Kids
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.