Facebook’s launch of Messenger Kids is a game-changer for families with kids under 13 – and not just because it’s from Facebook. It’s a game-changer because it’s not yet another parental control tool; it’s a social media learning tool – for parents as well as kids (probably kids at the younger end of the 6-12 age range of this first version of the product). So it’s for digital-age parenting training as well as social media training – especially as FB rolls it out internationally, in countries where kids aren’t already using Snapchat and Musical.ly. Even here in the U.S., though, it’s a great tool for families’ inter-generational communication (grandparents will be learning and enjoying the visual kind more and more from their grandchildren).
It’s also a game-changer for schools. Because the more support parents get in working with their elementary school-aged children on and in social media, the more support schools will get in addressing behavioral problems involving social media – any social media, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter or Kik messenger. Because despite COPPA (the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) and like or not, a heck of a lot of kids under 13 are using social media. And because of COPPA, somewhat ironically, parents and young children have not had many chances to dive in, learn and practice “swimming” in social media together – one of the best ways for kids (the lucky ones with socially competent, engaged parents) to learn social competency in digital media. Facebook Messenger Kids is fully COPPA-compliant social media for kids under 13 – social media their parents sign them up for.
How it works
- It’s a basic messenger app: Not much different from Facebook Messenger itself, it’s a texting, or messaging, app that kids and their friends, parents and relatives can use to chat in text or video.
- It’s simple – nothing hard for digitally challenged adults to use (if your colleagues are, get your student leaders to teach them how to use Facebook Messenger).
- It’s built with kids in mind, appealing to their love of visual communication. It includes a camera for photos, videos and videochat; tools like emojis, stickers, masks; and a drawing tool to get creative with those photos and videos.
- It’s a positive learning tool, not a response to a decade of scary headlines about young social media users. It puts parents in the driver’s seat, giving them the chance to bring their values into their kids’ online social experiences. The other thing I like is that it prepares kids to be in the driver’s seat, for example by teaching them how to report inappropriate content and mean behavior they experience in the app.
Key safety features
In case your students’ parents have questions about it, it might help you to know about Messenger Kids’s safety features:
- Parents do the set-up and approve everyone on a child’s contact list, and this works both ways: the parents of the child being added to their child’s Contacts approve their child as well.
- There are no ads, no in-app purchases and no sharing of kids’ data with other apps on their devices.
- It has its own specialized kid content moderation team at Facebook.
- The app, in effect, teaches kids how to report harassment and inappropriate content by giving them popup feedback, and – through parents’ Facebook accounts – it keeps parents informed of how that’s going.
- Parents get notifications of kid activity, including when kids report problems, within their (the parents’) Facebook accounts.
- Content doesn’t go away and can’t be deleted, so parents can check their children’s devices to find out what’s going on.
- App time, bedtime and other controls will be tested with users and likely added as the product rolls out.
You may be thinking, “And how does this help if my students are already using Snapchat, Musical.ly, Instagram, etc.? Well, they don’t typically use those apps with their parents and other caring adults in their lives. Having at least one tool for communications with parents, sibs, aunts, grandparents, etc., is social learning that will have impact on their use of other social media tools – and every little bit of online social-emotional learning helps, right? It’s not a quick fix (what is, right?!), but this is a positive step forward for the whole school community too.
For more on Kids Messenger (from a family tech perspective), see this post (with links to other coverage) at our founder’s blog NetFamilyNews.org.