Before the pandemic, we’ve regulated our daughter’s use of the Internet and screen time. Yes, she watches videos on YouTube, plays video games, and looks forward to her screen times just as much as any other child, but she’s still uninvolved when it comes to social media. And we’d like to keep it that way considering that the minimum age requirement of most platforms is 13 (our daughter is still 7).
However, the pandemic happened, and suffice to say our lives, including socialization, are hugely affected. Including socialization. And while adults like us can turn to social media and do chats or video calls to remain connected with our family and friends, our kids have err much-limited options. They rely on us to set up calls with family or even virtual playdates. And while my daughter has been keeping busy with her Legos and books, I’ve noticed that she also craves conversation with her friends. So in the last few months, I’ve allowed her to use Facebook Messenger. I gave her one on her phone by signing up for a new Facebook account, deactivating it, and letting her use just the Messenger account. My account is also included in most of her chat groups so I can easily monitor who she’s talking with.
I’ve also noticed that I’m not alone in this dilemma as I’ve seen a lot of parents raise this concern on social media. Especially since some schools are requiring their students to have their own Facebook messenger accounts for easier information dissemination. And while parents can go the same route I did (setting up a Facebook account and deactivating it) or letting their kids use their accounts, the good thing is, Facebook now makes it easier for parents to give their kids their Messenger accounts – thanks to Messenger Kids.
What is Messenger Kids?
Messenger Kids is a free messaging app from Facebook geared for kids under 13 (the main Facebook platform’s age restriction is 13 years old). Messenger Kids functions the same way as a regular Facebook Messenger app – it can send chats, join groups, and do video calls. The only difference is that parents function as the gatekeepers: the Messenger Kids account is tied to the parent’s or guardian’s regular Facebook account. This means that parents have control over the settings, notifications, and even contacts of the Messenger Kids account connected to their account.
What can kids do on Messenger Kids?
Kids can send text/chat messages, photos, videos, audio files, emojis, and GIFs to their contacts on the app. It also offers the option to use filters (similar to Snapchat) and lets them decorate photos and videos with stickers or even drawings. They can also set up their group chats with their contacts or join regular Facebook messenger group chats (provided that all contacts in the chat are approved and connected to their account). They don’t have Stories, but the app offers more photo filters and even games than the regular one.
How can parents set up a Messenger Kids account for their kids?
On your own Facebook account, go to profile, and look for the Messenger Kids option. Once you click on it, Facebook will then ask your child’s name, the next page will tell you the following:
- You can input your child’s name, photo, birthday, and gender, and even who can manage or supervise their account
- Facebook stores information about your child’s use of Messenger Kids, devices, contacts, messages (including photos, videos, and audio)
- You or a guardian need to give consent to Messenger Kids’ collection, use, and sharing of your child’s information
The next button allows you to formally create your child’s account and upload a profile photo. Next, Facebook offers you a list of possible Messenger Kids accounts – most of which are also managed or connected to Facebook accounts you are friends with. Adding one of these will allow the parents/guardians to see and approve the request. At the same time, the following window allows you to add your child’s friends by also sending a request to their parents who you are connected with on Facebook but are still not using Messenger Kids. And finally, the next is a list of adults that you are allowing your child to chat or connect with. And no worries if you want to add more contacts for her later as you can easily do so via your Messenger Kids Parent Dashboard.
How much control do I have over my child’s Messenger Kids account?
The Parent Dashboard in your Facebook account lets you view almost everything related to your child’s Messenger Kids account, including a list of recent contacts, recent images and videos shared in her chats, chat history and even a list of reported or blocked contacts. The Sleep mode allows you to control the amount of time your child spends on the app. If you access the dashboard on the Facebook app, you can also see controls for your child’s online or offline status.
Is Messenger Kids Safe?
Since parents can control and approve all their child’s contacts, Messenger Kids is relatively safe since it prevents your kids from chatting with strangers or bumping into inappropriate content. However, kids and their approved contacts can still share content from their camera roll (so they can download iffy content and share them), so there’s still no guarantee that everything in your child’s chats will stay GP-rated or even that everything will stay within the app.
Ultimately, Messenger Kids is a viable alternative for kids to stay connected with their friends, classmates, and even distant family members, especially during the pandemic. But parents will still have to monitor their activity on the app just to be sure. It can be a good training ground for kids before letting them use full-fledged apps (but not until they meet the apps minimum age requirement please). Aside from monitoring who their kids are talking to, parents should also be mindful of what their kids are doing and their behavior inside the app. Encourage your kids to observe proper behavior even while chatting, and to be responsible and respectful to ensure that their social media experience remains fun and positive.
Have fun chatting and keep safe!
*Originally published in MomCenter