Facebook has launched a messaging app for children to chat with their parents and with friends approved by their parents.
The free app is aimed at under-13s, who can’t yet have their own accounts under Facebook’s rules, though they often do. It was introduced Monday in the U.S. as an app for Apple devices — the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Versions for Android and Amazon’s tablets are coming later.
Messenger Kids comes with a slew of controls for parents. The service won’t let children add their own friends or delete messages — only parents can do that. Kids don’t get a separate Facebook or Messenger account. Instead, it’s an extension of a parent’s account.
A kids-focused experience
While children do use messaging and social media apps designed for teenagers and adults, those services aren’t built for them, said Kristelle Lavallee, a children’s psychology expert who advised Facebook on designing the service.
“The risk of exposure to things they were not developmentally prepared for is huge,” she said.
Messenger Kids, meanwhile, “is a result of seeing what kids like,” which is images, emoji and the like. Face filters and playful masks can be distracting for adults, Lavallee said, but for kids who are just learning how to form relationships and stay in touch with parents digitally, they are ways to express themselves.
‘The risk of exposure to things they were not developmentally prepared for is huge.’
– Kristelle Lavallee, children’s psychology expert
Lavallee, content strategist at the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University, called Messenger Kids a “useful tool” that “makes parents the gatekeepers.”
But she said that while Facebook made the app “with the best of intentions,” it’s not yet known how people will actually use it.
As with other tools Facebook has released, intentions and real-world use do not always match up. Facebook’s live video streaming feature, for example, has been used for plenty of innocuous and useful things, but also to stream crimes and suicides.
Hooked on Facebook
Is Messenger Kids simply a way for Facebook to rope in the young ones?
Stephen Balkam, CEO of the non-profit Family Online Safety Institute, said “that train has left the station.”
Federal law prohibits…