In today’s world of ubiquitous smartphones and internet access, parents expect that their children will be exposed to technology from a very young age. It’s one thing to let young kids play educational games on a tablet, but should your child have access to a messenger app to communicate with other children and family members?
This is exactly the debate sparked by Messenger Kids, Facebook’s new app aimed at children ages 13 and under, which lets them text, video chat and send photos, with permissions granted through the parent’s Facebook account.
Facebook claims that the standalone app, which is currently in a limited iOS preview release, is a fun, safe solution that “lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want.” The social media giant also notes that their app is compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which requires “verifiable parental consent” before a company can collect, use or disclose personal data like names, locations, photos and videos of children under 13.
Some parents love the idea of letting their kids learn to communicate with family and friends via the platforms they themselves use every day. Others would prefer to halt the tide of technology and shelter their kids from the “always-on” world. But let’s face it – kids will eventually see other kids using smart devices, and unless you never pull out your own phone or tablet in front of your children, that’s a difficult stance to enforce.
Still, Messenger Kids and similar apps open the door to a question that modern parents continue to struggle with: How young is too young for mobile apps, and where is the line of too much screen time?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, television and entertainment media should be avoided for children under age 2, and children and teens should be limited to two hours of “high-quality” entertainment media per day. Ultimately, however, it’s up to you as a parent to manage your children’s exposure to technology during their formative years.
If you do choose to give your child access to Messenger Kids, here are some best practices to maximize their enjoyment and safety while using the app:
1. Be Judicious About Their Approved Contacts
Messenger Kids only allows children to communicate with users approved by their parents. Keep your child’s “social circle” as small as possible, limiting the list to trusted family members and friends.
2. Keep Tabs On Their In-App Activity
Children can take photos and videos using fun filters, and dress up their images with doodles and kid-friendly frames, stickers and GIFs. While this is a great way for kids to creatively express themselves, check their activity from time to time to make sure they or their contacts are not using the app inappropriately. (On the app’s landing page, Facebook says messages don’t disappear and can’t be hidden “in case parents would like to check in.”)
3. Balance App Time With Non-Electronic Activities
This is a good rule of thumb for any device your child uses. For every hour they spend using Messenger Kids (or other entertainment apps), make sure they spend another hour doing something screen-free, like reading a book or doing arts and crafts.
4. Lead By Example
If you don’t want your kids to get addicted to their devices, set the tone with your own tech use. Encourage them to put their phones or tablets away at the dinner table or during special family time, and make sure you do the same.
For more tips on monitoring screen time for kids, visit our previous blog post.