New app Messenger Kids for under 13s by Facebook – thumbs up or down to kids getting more social media access?
Facebook has released its free new service for younger children aimed at under 13s, called Messenger Kids – “a new app for families to connect” under parent supervision. Parents are meant to create a profile for their kids and approve friends requests before kids can text and have video chats using the main Facebook Messenger app. Kids can’t connect with contacts unless their parents approve them first and there are safety filters to prevent children from sharing nudity, sexual content or violence. So how excited should us parents be about this new online chat service for kids, how safe is it for kids and are we willing to let them in on the social media drug so young?
We asked parents in Singapore if their tweens had their own phone, what apps they used and what they thought about kids using Messenger Kids.
Andrea who has two kids aged 8 and 11 only allows her eldest to use social media. Andrea says, reluctantly her eldest does have her own phone (but with a lot of restrictions) as she catches public transport home a few days a week and it is a way to keep in touch. “My 11 year old uses Musicly which is a kids dancing and lipsyncing app very popular with 9-11yr olds. This lives on mummy’s phone and not hers – so I can monitor it. My daughter constantly asks about Instagram as some of her friends have it. The legal age is 13 so I’m using that as a tactic to say no. I’m not comfortable for her to have it at all until she’s an older teen. I still think 13 years is too young. We have talked about cyber bullying and to a lesser extent about online stranger danger but this I think is better explained when she’s a bit older. I prefer my kids to be outside playing and socialising with kids their own age than spending it on the phone. I don’t want or like them to be addicted to the screen.”
What do you think of Facebook’s new app, Messenger Kids?
“It’s a ploy to recruit this generation of potential users. I get that we need to accept that this is the world we live in and soon enough our kids need to eventually get a mobile phone and be allowed some form of social media. I don’t want to deny them of it but I do want to make sure that they understand the dangers and parameters. They have to be old enough and mature enough to understand this and I don’t think they would be at any age less than 13yrs.”
Sarah who has three older kids (16, 14 and 10 years old) says her eldest kids do all use social media (Snapchat, Instagram, Messenger and Whatsapp). “As my older two are older than 13, they can have their own IG and FB accounts and I did make them wait until 13 before doing so. It is a losing battle though, trying to limit time on social media. They have to be able to control their own time and that is not easy when “everyone else” is permanently communicating through social media. I do not allow my youngest to communicate via IG/FB yet – she needs to learn how to communicate and socialise with friends in real life rather than over the internet. Using whatsapp to message family members is my beginning move, but she will not be allowed to have her own friends and her own phone until she is in secondary school.
What do you think of FB’s new app Messenger Kids?
“As much as I want to disapprove, I actually quite like the sound of it. With apps such as Snapchat, it is impossible to know what your child is putting out there on the internet, and with the parental controls that Messenger Kids promises, it sounds a perfect introduction to social media for the child, with the ability for the parent to monitor as and when necessary.”
Jackie, mum of two teens, a 13- and 15 year old, says both her kids use Instagram and the eldest uses Snapchat as they both have their own phones. While Jackie says she is as comfortable as one can be, with her kids access to social media to communicate, she says “They know we do random spot checks and they have made mistakes using it.. posting photos of others etc but like everything you make mistakes and learn from it.”
What do you think of Messenger Kids?
“Definitely a way for FB to gain early loyalty… my kids see Facebook as “old”! They don’t want a Facebook account so FB gets kids at an early age and hope they convert. The control sounds good on paper but none of these apps are watertight so if my kids were younger I still wouldn’t let them use it. Likewise, Instagram was only allowed from age 13 for my two kids. The other thing I would add is that over time parents take less and less control. We all start out with very good intentions but how many of us really have the time to sit day after day and monitor our kids’ screen time and content? You have to guide them and trust them to do the right thing, knowing they will never get it 100% right. We have the guinea pig generation of screen-addicted kids. I’m just glad I don’t have young children and mine had a simple young life. They can still play games and talk like normal people!”
Suasti’s kids, a 9 and 11 year old both have their own phones. They are only allowed to use Whats App.
What do you think of Messenger kids?
“The new Messenger kids seems acceptable to me due to the controls they have built in. Parents being able to have their account connected to their child’s profile, and accepting and controlling who they connect with is very useful. Given how international some families are – it would be nice for kids to be able to connect with family members overseas. Currently we use Whats App group chats to be able to do so but I would not be averse to a Facebook solution as long as advertisements are not allowed on childrens’ feeds under the age of 12 and security measures are present.”
Phillippa who has a 9 yr old and an 11yr old says her kids use Whatsapp although they don’t own their own phones. Phillipa thinks kids should certainly not be able to use social media to communicate when they’re still young. “There’s so much pressure on kids to keep up with others and to be popular.”
What do you think of Messenger Kids?
“This app will make it even more difficult for parents to minimize screen time!”
What do you think about kids accessing social media? Tell us by emailing [email protected]
Phone image by Reuters sourced via Business Times