Kids these days have iPhones, tablets, and other devices. Remember growing up in a world without mobile phones? Or perhaps even without cordless phones? Your kids don’t. Instead, they’re growing up in a world where the Internet is a given and mobile devices are commonplace.
In other words, your kids are highly adapted to an online lifestyle, and most of them probably enjoy using their devices with gusto.
For a parent, there are many decisions to be made regarding your children and the Internet. How much will you permit them to do? At what age should kids be allowed to go online? Have an email address? Watch YouTube?
These are tough decisions that demand consideration and no one can decide what’s best for you and your child. However, last year Facebook released a mobile app which just might make it a little easier for your younger kids to chat with friends online, allowing you to remain in control. This fairly new app is called Messenger Kids, and let’s dive in and see what it’s all about.
Common Parental Concerns
When it comes to online access, parents have a number of typical concerns.
Safety online is probably the number one concern of parents regarding the digital world. It is tough to restrict your kids from being curious about the Internet because it’s all around them. We as parents use it, it is used in schools, and a great many kids have their own devices. A 2013 study reported that 95% of Australian kids ages 9-11 had accessed the Internet in the previous 4 weeks. And these kids were frequently using social media. Approximately 45% of 8-11 year olds said they used social media sites.
It’s clear that children not only want to use social media, but that many of them are already using it. It’s vital to keep them safe online.
One of the biggest concerns with young children using social media is the potential for them to connect and interact with strangers, potentially sharing personal information. This can be a real threat to a child, as, sadly, predators often use the Internet to seek out targets. Being aware of who your child is talking to (and preventing them from being contacted by unknown persons) is the first step towards alleviating these worries, and, as we’ll find out, the Messenger Kids app could help you do this.
Another disturbing truth of the Internet and social media is the existence of cyberbullying. The school years can be challenging for kids, and bullies can take to social media to compound the problem.
Too Much Screen Time
Parents also worry about the negative effects of too much time spent online or using devices. Various research demonstrates that excessive social media use can increase anxiety or lower self-esteem, not to mention the physical changes that constant screen usage may be creating in the brain. How much time is adequate for kids or even adults?
Exposure to Bad Language, Violence, etc.
A 4th safety concern has to do with what kids might encounter online. It’s no secret that there are some not-so-nice things on the web. It’s normal to fear your child might stumble across something violent or frightening. Having control of the content they can access is essential in preventing this.
The Facebook Messenger Kids App
Could Messenger Kids be a great solution to these safety concerns? While there’s no substitute for teaching your kids online safety habits and talking about safety regularly, the Messenger Kids app could be an excellent first social media app for your young children.
Facebook is meant to be for ages 13 and above, so for kids under 13, Messenger Kids might be the next best thing.
The app is said to be for kids from 6-12, though the target demographic seems to be 9-11 year olds. Each parent will have a different view on what age is appropriate to use social media, but ostensibly, your 6-year-old could use the Messenger Kids app safely and happily. (And while that might seem quite young, this is, after all, the generation raised on iPads, so it’s likely your 6-year-old may be surprisingly proficient!)
The Messenger Kids app functions under the umbrella of a parent’s Facebook account. Kids can’t create their own accounts or add any contacts on their own. Everything must be parent-approved. This is great news when compared with standard text messages or other independent apps popular with kids. Now you can allow your child to message friends and family in a way that you have complete access to.
When your child receives a contact request, it is up to you to approve or deny. This means you can see exactly who wants to get in touch with your child and you have the final say. You can also look at their existing friend list and even see when those contacts are currently online.
There are other important controls, too. For instance, you can set various limits and restrictions in the app settings. If you enable “limit adult content” this can prevent your child from opening links sent to them by friends. In one example, this kept a child from being able to open a YouTube link.
Parents can also feel good about the access this gives them to their children’s conversations. Kids are unable to delete their previous chats and messages, so anything they’ve sent or received will be there for you to see it. You can even instal a backup copy on your own device so that you can occasionally oversee your children’s messaging when you need to.
Just recently, Messenger Kids got a new update: a sleep mode. This gives parents the ability to set time constraints on their child’s app use. When it’s time for bed, you can be sure your child won’t be hiding under the covers and chatting with friends!
Let’s not forget one important aspect: it’s fun for kids! Facebook has researched what kids enjoy doing online and tried to incorporate this as much as possible. This means that the Messenger Kids app has lots of stickers, GIFs, emojis, filters, and more, all of which are kid-friendly. While parents may not think twice about using these add-ons, they are very popular with kids and teens and their inclusion in Messenger Kids can help attract kids to want to use this app. For kids who are just finding their feet with digital interaction, these elements can ease the transition, too, allowing them to send silly stickers to their parents or explore creativity with drawing.
Arguments Against the App
While Messenger Kids has already been download more than 300,000 times, the app definitely has its opponents. Some argue that creating an app targeted to such a young age group will have detrimental results. Others insist that Facebook is trying to capture a new audience, kids who will grow up to be avid Facebook fans as adults. While Facebook has stated that---in cooperation with privacy standards---it is not collecting any data from this app or placing ads, it’s difficult to know if this might change in the future.
Ultimately, decisions regarding social media use for kids lie with the parents. But fortunately, tools like this app do provide options.
What do you think? Will you download Messenger Kids for your children?