Facebook Introduces Messenger Kids, a Parent-Approved Chat App
Facebook, the world’s largest social network, isn’t showing signs of slowing down. That growth makes it a great place to connect with friends and acquaintances, but poses a real problem for parents with children — not all of Facebook’s 2 billion users are particularly friendly. Enter Facebook’s solution: Messenger Kids on Monday, a kid-friendly version of its Messenger application.
Messenger Kids, which is rolling out in the United States today in a preview, aims to make it easier for children to safely message loved ones. Facebook says that it surveyed “thousands” of parents and engaged “over a dozen” expert advisors in the areas of child development, online safety and children’s media, and technology, and that it held workshops with organizations such as the National PTA and Blue Star Families.
“After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the US, we found that there’s a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want,” Loren Cheng, Facebook Product Management Director, wrote in a blog post. “Whether it’s using video chat to talk to grandparents, staying in touch with cousins who live far away, or sending mom a decorated photo while she’s working late to say hi, Messenger Kids opens up a new world of online communication to families.”
Messenger Kids highlights trusted contacts. Once a parent approves their child’s account through the Messenger Kids Controls panel in the Facebook app, the Messenger Kids home screen populates with a list of parent-approved contact. Kids can start one-on-one or group video chats, but parents have full control over the contact list — kids can’t connect to connects that haven’t been vetted.
Messenger Kids, just like the grown-up Messenger, has masks, sounds effects, and emojis, in addition to kid-appropriate GIFs, frames, stickers, masks, and drawing tools. And kids have the freedom to send photos, videos, and text messages to any approved contact who’s installed Messenger on their smartphone or tablet.
Messenger Kids is only available for iOS only right now, but an Android version will be released in the future. Neither will contain ads or in-app purchases, Facebook says, and they’re fully compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA).
It’s great news for parents, no doubt. Most want their child to explore the internet because there’s so much to learn — exposure to a diversity of ideas is hugely beneficial, most child psychologists would argue. However, shady websites and trolls can ruin the experience, which is why platforms like YouTube have been forced to roll out pre-screened, highly tailored kid-friendly versions of their apps. (See YouTube Kids.) In that respect, Messenger Kids is very much welcome.