Facebook Launches New Messenger App for Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

Last week, Facebook unveiled a new messaging app designed specifically for kids to message friends and family members.

Created for kids ages 6 – 12, Messenger Kids users won’t need a Facebook account, as under federal law users under the age of 13 cannot legally sign up for Facebook. Facebook says Messenger Kids is compliant with COPPA – the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act – designed to protect the online privacy of children under the age of 13.

Messenger Kids provides a medium for kids to securely video and text chat with parents and a select group of friends using a “library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools” that lets them “decorate content and express their personalities.”

You create and control your child’s Messenger profile under your own Facebook account. When you download it from the App Store, you authenticate with your Facebook user name and password. At this point, an account can be created for your child, with the process requiring only a name for the additional profile.

You control your child’s contact list, with the home screen showing only pre-approved friends who are online and preexisting one-on-one chats and group threads.

If the idea of your six-year-old having a social media account is unsettling to you, you’re not alone. COPPA exists to protect children under 13, the most vulnerable age group for online predators and exploitation. Unfortunately, kids are clever and have found ways to bypass policies on site like Snapchat and Facebook, which user by children under 13. Some have accounts created by well-meaning parents. In a blog post titled “Hard Questions,” Facebook’s Public Policy Director Antigone Davis writes, “Children today are online earlier and earlier. They use family-shared devices — and many, as young as six or seven years old, even have their own.”

According to Davis, Facebook collaborated with the National PTA to study over 1,000 parents of U.S. children under the age of 13. Of those surveyed, three-fifths admitted that their children under 13 are already using messaging apps and over 80 percent said their kids started using social media as early as eight. Facebook sees Messenger Kids as a way for parents to control and oversee that social media activity.

Messenger Kids is only available in the U.S., with limited rollout on iOS and a plan to expand to the Amazon App Store and Google Play Store over the next few months.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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