By Tracey Dowdy
Facebook introduced its free video calling and messaging app Messenger Kids with the tag, “Made for Kids. Controlled by Parents.” Targeted at kids under 13, Messenger Kids is designed to be a bridge between child-friendly devices like Leap Pads and full access to social media platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, or TikTok.
Kids still can’t sign up for a Facebook account. Instead, they can create one through their parent or guardian’s account. Once the account has been authenticated by a parent, kids – with a parent’s help and or supervision – can set up a mini-profile with their name (it can be a nickname) and photo (it can be a photo of anything). Kids can use the app either on their device or on yours, but remember: if you give them your phone, they’ll have access to all the photos and videos on your device. Parents can choose whether to add the child’s gender and birth date. Once the profile is complete, parents can approve any friend requests through the Messenger Kids bookmark in the main Facebook app. Messenger Kids is interoperable within Facebook’s Messenger app, so parents don’t have to download the Kids app.
To further protect their privacy, Messenger Kids users can’t be found through Facebook search, so if a child wants to chat with a friend, their parent must first friend that child’s parent, then choose to approve the friend request.
When users open Messenger Kids, they’ll see a color-customizable home screen with tiles representing their existing chat threads and all approved contacts. The interface is user friendly, making it easy for kids to jump into a video chat or text thread with their contacts. They can also block and unblock their parent-approved contacts. Good news parents – there are no in-app purchases to worry about.
The app offers loads of kid-friendly creative tools, like fidget spinners, dinosaur AR masks, carefully curated gifs (native to the app – no external third party sites), and crayon-style stickers. “Video calls become so much more playful with AR,” says Marcus.
Facebook won’t monetize Messenger Kids, but will automatically migrate kids to regular accounts when they turn 13. Nor will they be collecting data to remain in compliance with Children’s Online Privacy Protections Act (COPPA) law. The app also includes a reporting interface written specifically for kids so they can flag anything suspicious to a dedicated support team working 24/7.
Facebook’s head of Messenger David Marcus says, “When you think about things at scale that we do to get people to care more about Messenger, this is one that addresses a real need for parents. But the side effect will be that they use Messenger more and create family groups.”
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.