What Parents Need to Know About the New Messenger App Facebook Has Launched for Kids!

What Parents Need to Know About the New Messenger App Facebook Has Launched for Kids!

Author: Danielle Verrilli Cybersafe Families

This new app has caused quite a stir among parents and child experts. Some are outraged that Facebook would do something considered so dangerous while others argue that our kids need to start sometime, it’s preparation for the world they are growing into. At this point the Facebook Messenger App is not yet available for Australian children but it’s on its way! It is looking like an innovation that could have some risks but also some benefits for kids and it does have some parents scared.

A big part of managing this new technology will be acceptance. This is the way of the world. Children are communicating online constantly. As parents we still have a choice. We can help, support and educate. We need to understand their world and help them to navigate it safely. Cybersafe Families caution parents to be very aware and very in touch with what their children are doing on socials. Learning how to navigate together is the key…because it’s not going to go away.

From the preliminary information we have so far, we can tell that an advantage of the Messenger Kids App is that the built in parental controls seem sensible. Parent permission is needed in order to accept and request friends so you parents will know exactly who their children are chatting with and only parents can delete messages. It will be important that this is explained to children as a function of the app that is not there to spy on them but to help them to learn the ropes and keep them safe. It also gives parents an opportunity to discuss the notion of safe friends, those that are known personally to the child and are about the same age. It can open up discussions about the ways parents choose their Facebook Friends and a great way to model positive and safe online behaviour.

Parents have said there are plenty of other apps out there that children can use to communicate. This is very true. Whilst many social media site’s recommended age is 13 years and over, we are well aware that children are using socials younger and younger. Very few are designed for children though, and at the moment millions of children are on Facebook, and other social media platforms having lied about their age with or without their parent’s knowledge. Facebook don’t have a mechanism for eradicating under age users, they say it’s virtually impossible to identify a child. Although that’s not entirely convincing, given that most Facebook users include pictures of themselves in their story. Australian law does not allow data to be collected on children under the age of 13, hence the Facebook age recommendation, but this is obviously too difficult to enforce.

And yes, there are other apps out there for children to communicate with, like YUBO for example. Yubo is a social app to connect with friends and meet new ones, it’s not safe. In Yubo, you can share images and videos and create groups chats. 13-year-old Tom created a Yubo account and within minutes discovered it was a teen dating sight, he had received two queries regarding his exact location, and also received nude images. If our alternative is to encourage children to connect with Randoms and exchange nudes I think the Messenger Kids app is starting to look like a safer option.

Another fear that parents have shared about Messenger kids is that it opens up another avenue for cyber bullying. Hopefully, in the near future, social media platforms will use algorithms to identify cyberbullying patterns without having to rely purely on this cybercrime being reported by the victim. But in the meantime, and as with anything young children are doing online, shoulder supervision is always necessary. Cyber Bullying is not so much about the technology as it is about respect and relationships. Talk often about those important values, model respectful communication, and keep an eye on what your kids are doing online regardless of what app or social they are on. Cybersafe Families can’t stress enough that parental controls are not the only answer to keeping your child safe. Above all of this is family agreements about online use, regular open conversations about positive online behaviour, having family guidelines and sticking to them, a common understanding about respectful communication, parents leading by positive example, and when something goes wrong, work together to learn the lesson and start and move forward with this new information.

Exactly how Messenger Kids is going to be used is yet to be seen. And over time settings and in app features are sure to change and be updated. The reality is that Facebook will collect data on your child through your Facebook account and there are endless possibilities as to what they may do with that information. Social media sites use your information for targeted advertising and while this is not a feature of Messenger Kids, will it remain that way? We just don’t know.

Let’s not trust Facebook entirely to do the right thing by our children, stay involved, stay informed and let’s wait to see what Messenger Kids will bring.

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