I can’t decide how I feel about the new Facebook Messenger for kids. Maybe by the time I finish writing this, I will have formulated an opinion. But at the top, here, I don’t know what to say. We all know that kids are starting to use technology, younger and younger. It’s part of how they communicate with friends and family. Most kids are using tablets or an iPod Touch, and neither of these have the ability to make phone calls or send text messages. Yes, you can use FaceTime audio or video, but they don’t have the same capability as a phone. Also, these kinds of apps don’t give parents the kind of control that they want – especially for younger kids. But never fear, Facebook has a solution for you.
It is called Messenger Kids and it’s basically a standalone child-friendly Messenger app with parental controls. I have to hand it to Facebook, they are at least responding to what parents are looking for. The other nice thing about this? You don’t have to sign your child up for Facebook. I was going to rage on Facebook for introducing their platform to kids at such a young age. Especially when there are concerns about addiction to using these online tools and games etc. But they seem to have thought about ways that I can criticize them in advance of my critique. The parent does, however, need to have a Facebook account in order to set up the child’s account. Which is ok, but what if you are like me and you want to abstain from Facebook? I guess if you really want your kid to have an account, you’ll get one too?
How does it work exactly? When you download the Messenger Kids app, the first thing you’ll do is authorize it with your own Facebook account. This does not log you into the platform — all it does is use your account to authenticate it. You then create a completely separate Messenger Kids account with your child’s first and last name. Again, this does not create a Facebook account for the child, and their name will not be publicly searchable. Messenger Kids is advertisement free, so that’s a bonus.
Your child can’t make friends unless they go through you. The parents are the only people who can add contacts for their kids. And the only way they can do that is through Facebook. Adding adult family members like grandpa and grandma is easy because they likely already have Facebook accounts. Adults can use the normal Messenger app to talk to the kids through Messenger Kids — it’s completely interoperable. This is actually a really good feature. The last thing you want is for your kid to be able to “friend” an adult stranger that you don’t know. It’s also nice so they can chat with family members as well.
Ok, so what if your child wants to become friends with other kids in their class? This is less easy. You have to also be friends with the kid’s parents on Facebook. I don’t know that I really like this, as I think Facebook should be for your friends. Perhaps it should have a category of – “I don’t really know this person” because that’s where your kids’ friends parents should go. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t know who they are or at least know something about them. But I don’t know if you need them on your Facebook “friends” list. I’m also not suggesting that you can’t become friends with them. I am looking at this from a realistic perspective, and I’m not sure that you make friends that quickly.
Facebook has said that they went to great lengths in order to reach out to child development experts in order to help them make sure that they got it right. This is great as I was going to criticize Facebook for not thinking about this. For the second time in a week, I am being nice to Facebook. Maybe it’s the time of year, but I am feeling generous – I don’t know how long that will last though, which means you should cherish this moment while you can.