I remember a time not too long ago when people had to be at least 13 to join Facebook. That had enough problems of its own, most of which were unaddressed by Facebook. Online grooming was on the large.
Now, the same Facebook has dedicated a whole app to children between the ages of 6 and 13 who aren’t eligible to join the real app!
What drove the decision to create the app is the number of children under 13 that are active online. The number of under-13-year-olds that join the app by lying about their ages.
Statistics show that 93% of 6 to 12-year-olds in the US have access to tablets or smartphones, and 66% have a device of their own. In a study, 81% of American parents reported their children started using social media between the ages of 8 and 13.
The drastic increase in internet and smartphone use among children younger than 13 is already a health concern. It should not be rational for large corporations to invent new applications that worsen the issue.
The app is currently only available in the United States. That said, let’s examine the benefits and limitations of the app so we as parents can choose for ourselves, what we think is right.
Advantages of Facebook Messenger Kids
1. Children Under 13 Still Cannot Sign up for a Facebook Account
‘Facebook Messenger kids’ is not an independent Facebook account. Instead, parents download the Messenger Kids app to their child’s iPhone, iPad or Android.
As soon as the parent has authenticated the app with their own Facebook account, they can set up a mini-profile with their kid’s photo and name.
2. Parents Get to Choose What Friends Are Allowed
You get to use the ‘Messenger Kids’ bookmark in the main Facebook app to authorise anyone who is friends with you (grandparents, godparents, uncles or aunts) as a contact for your child. Parents can also approve (or disapprove) of any other friend requests their child gets.
3. Kids Still Cannot be Found on the Regular Facebook Search
In an attempt to protect the child’s privacy, Facebook has made it so that the child using Facebook messenger kids will not appear as search results on the regular Facebook search.
If your child wants to chat with their classmate, you as their parent would have to friend the classmate’s parent on Facebook. Then you will see the option to approve the child as a friend for your child.
4. It Teaches Children how to Navigate a Hyper-Connected World
Some people argue that Facebook Messenger Kids is a good thing because it teaches kids about messaging at a young age. Some believe this is essential in preparing them for the hyper-connected world they will have to navigate in the future.
Disadvantages of Facebook Messenger Kids
1. Too much Screen Time
The Facebook Messenger Kids app is designed to be excessively engaging to keep children on the app for hours. Such an amount of screen time is too much for a child who doesn’t know how to regulate internet usage for sure.
Kids don’t require more screen time. They need less.
The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that parents restrict screen time for their children. Studies have linked excessive screen time to delayed speech, loss of sleep, and other ills ranging from anxiety to depression to impaired concentration.
2. ‘Facebook Messenger Kids’ Primes Children for Continued Heavy Usage of the App When They Are Older
If our goal is to limit our children’s phone usage, why then are we opting into addictive apps like this? These apps primarily targeted at kids, priming them for a gross brand engagement until when they are finally old enough to join the real app.
3. Children WILL Find Their Way Across the Limits Set on the App and so will Pedophiles
‘Facebook Messenger kids’ makes it so that parents get to approve or disapprove of all new contacts their child has on the app. The chances are that kids will find their way around having to wait for parents to approve their contacts. Like they always have.
Many children younger than 13 are on the main Facebook app even though they have to be 13 to join. What’s to say they won’t bypass the system that way they have in previous years?
4. Parents May Not Concern Themselves with Every Message
No matter how concerned a parent is with their child’s online activity, there is no guarantee that they will remain consistently involved in the monitoring of every message, or contact their child has. The app does not allow parents to monitor or spy on their child’s texts.
5. Bullying, Sextortion and Revenge Porn
Facebook’s main app has not done much for the abuse of its users regarding cyberbullying, sextortion and revenge porn. The app leaves it up to the users to report such a violation. A seriously flawed method of monitoring.
Because the main app contains such flaws, there is no guarantee that Facebook will address these abuse issues in the children’s app.
Many caretakers will not fully understand the numerous effects of hyper-digitisation for decades to come. Although the main idea for Messenger Kids is rooted in good intentions, the dangers outweigh the benefits. We owe our children a safe social media experience.