Children are social beings. They crave quality time and interaction with their friends, and research shows this time is important for their social-emotional development. But in this time of quarantining and social distancing, where playdates and sleepovers have turned into video conferences and FaceTiming, how do parents provide safe opportunities for their children to socialize through a digital format?
After over a decade of seeing the power social media has over kids, substantial public outcry exists for one of two things -a complete end to underage internet use or a child friendly platform that takes the specific needs of young users to heart. In the age of social distancing, choosing the former is essentially choosing to cut our children off from their peers and to damage their emotional well-being. Facebook has instead chosen the latter. Their app, Messenger Kids, might just be a safe option to keep your child connected with her best friends until she is able to return to normal interactions.
If you haven’t heard of it yet, Messenger Kids is similar to Facebook’s Messenger app but with modifications designed specifically for children and their parents. Facebook claims to have taken extra care in preserving privacy, safety, and parental control to create a truly child-friendly social media experience. Although, these claims have not been free of skepticism.
Not too long ago, the news of Facebook shifting focus to younger viewers led to the immediate uproar of concerned parents. Among them was Jeremy Hunt, former UK Secretary of State For Health and Social Care, who called for Facebook to “stay away from my kids.” He recalled that Facebook previously agreed to provide him with strategies to ward off underage users. The company later contradicted themselves by presenting a new product aimed at younger children.
A petition was started by the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood and Moms Rising arguing that research shows the harm excessive social media use is having on adolescents and teens. The value-based system leaves users pining for likes, comments, comparison, and inclusion. Jamie Greene, a psychologist from Mount Kisco, New York, added that younger children are more impressionable and not mature enough to process social messages.
Facebook has responded to this criticism by continuing to promote Messenger Kids as a safer way for younger age groups to connect with their friends and family. If you are still wary of believing a company infamous for privacy invasion, here are the top eight reasons to give Messenger Kids a chance.
8 Reasons to Give Messenger Kids a Chance
- The Contributors: Messengers Kids was designed with the help of National PTA, Blue Star Families, in addition to parents and experts in online privacy. The app is compliant with the US Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA).
- The Essential Status of Parents: Parental supervision is a major priority. Contact requests must be approved by both parents and sent by them on behalf of their children. Messenger Kids can also connect children to friends and relatives on the existing Messenger app, provided that these users are approved by parents. If things aren’t going well, parents are able to intervene and block contacts at any time. The child, in turn, is hidden from the blocked user. If needed, parents and children alike can provide detailed reports of inappropriate situations.
- The Learning Opportunities: Kids are allowed the responsibility to block other users while lacking the ability to delete or hide messages. This means that troublesome individuals can be hidden from view, but the child’s own troublesome behavior is left open for parental-review and self-reflection. In this way, the app teaches future social media users good internet etiquette, something today’s adolescents are not discovering until it’s too late. Perhaps Messenger Kids can serve as an appropriate way for parents to explore this digital world with their children.
- The Exclusions: Advertisements, money, and privacy should not be a concern with Messenger Kids. No ads and no in-app purchases appear. The app itself is free to download. Facebook has even gone as far as to promise that no data collected will be used for advertising purposes.
- It’s Not REALLY Facebook: Messenger Kids does not require a Facebook account. It is a completely stand-alone app and those who use it will continue to be barred from Facebook until they turn 13.
- The Features: Creative elements such as emojis, stickers, and GIFs are child-appropriate. Parents will be able to limit anything they perceive as adult content.
- The Ratings: User reviews speak for themselves. Messenger Kids stands on Apple’s App store with 4.3 out of 5 stars and 3.7k ratings in total.
- The Alternatives: Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram and Musical.ly are all dangerous platforms for children. Regardless, they all have millions of underage users, many of whom are no doubt online without their parents’ permission. Peer pressure and technological development has made it nearly impossible to prevent kids from entering the social media world. So, Messenger Kids can serve as a pragmatic alternative for parents to introduce their children to the internet. It allows parental influence over all activity while also teaching children to independently control their actions, privacy, and social life.
One notable downside to Messenger Kids is that it is dependent on parents having a Facebook account. For parents who are not and will not be Facebook users anytime soon, other options exist to support the social well-being of your children this summer.
Here are just a few…
- PopJam– All the fun of Instagram with none of the risk. PopJam has adult moderators to keep users from posting any inappropriate content or personally identifying information. Unlike most social media platforms, PopJam does not include a private chat feature.
- GeckoLife: Though not designed specifically for children, GeckoLife is aimed at keeping families and small groups connected. Children are allowed their own profile that is linked to a parent’s account. The account holder has complete control to monitor and limit activity on the child’s profile.
- Kidzworld: This platform provides a little more freedom for users to communicate with people outside their circles. However, Kidzworld staff monitors chat rooms and must approve all posted content.
We are all anxious to return to a time where in-person playdates and sleepovers are again the norm; remember, face-to-face interactions are the most authentic means to proper social development. As regulations begin to loosen, if you find your child choosing digital networking over in-person opportunities, gently encourage the latter instead. But in the meantime, do consider exploring Messenger Kids or another app that will provide your children the social time they desire and need.