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Messenger Kids is Facebook's new text and video chat app for under 13s

Facebook is launching a child-friendly version of Messenger with robust parental controls and a more colorful look.

Published onDecember 4, 2017

Social media giant Facebook is rolling out a version of Messenger aimed at under 13s. The app, dubbed Messenger Kids, will be available on Android devices via the Google Play Store “in the coming months”, Facebook announced earlier today. Apple users with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch in the US can check out the app now via a preview build.

Much like Google’s similarly child-friendly video app YouTube Kids, Messenger Kids is a retooled, streamlined version of Messenger that’s been tailored to a younger audience. Facebook is also pushing the app as a far more secure way for youngsters to chat with friends and family online.

To achieve this, Messenger Kids is run entirely through a regular Facebook account owned by a parent. All you have to do is install the app on a child’s device, authenticate it via your own “adult” account, and set up a “child” profile.

Facebook has stressed that the latter is by no means a full account. From the images posted alongside a blog post, it appears to be restricted to a first name, surname, and a single profile picture. Likewise, the child has no access to the parent account on their phone or tablet, as it’s only used for authentication purposes.

The app’s actual functionality is exactly what you’d expect – Messenger with a more colorful, pre-teen makeover complete with text and photo chat threads, group video calling with whacky Snapchat-esque filters, and “a library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools” to let youngsters “decorate content and express their personalities.”

The interesting part for safety-conscious parents is the way in which Messenger Kids tackles friend requests. The only way a contact can be added to a child’s account is through the parent’s own Facebook account (appropriately located in the parental controls section).

Adding another child into the chat is a little more awkward, and this might be where Facebook’s noble attempt at simplifying and securing Messenger for a younger audience falls flat on its face.

From here, parents can add friends from their own list that have full Facebook profiles. Messenger Kids users can still chat with regular Messenger users, like older family members, as long as they are approved by the parent first.

Adding another child into the chat is a little more awkward, and this might be where Facebook’s noble attempt at simplifying and securing Messenger for a younger audience falls flat on its face.

Say your child’s friend is also using Messenger Kids and you’re happy for them to start chatting online. The big roadblock here is that you’ll need to be Facebook friends with the other child’s parents to add them to the approved list in Kids.

While it sounds a little awkward at first, this is probably the best way to handle friend requests. However, there’s one fairly major problem that might cause a few teething issues in the short term.

As it stands, there are already countless numbers of children already using the full-fledged Messenger app via a proper Facebook account. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a child has a Kids “account” while many of their friends all have access to the full Facebook experience – a scenario some social-savvy youngsters may not be too happy with.

The hope appears to be that more and more parents will switch over to Messenger Kids over time, and if that happens then it should prove to be a much safer way of introducing children to social media and instant messaging.

Facebook has also confirmed that the app will not contain any in-app purchases or adverts and that the child’s information will not be used for advertising purposes in any way.