- Facebook’s new Messenger Kids app hits the Google Play Store today.
- The app gives children a Messenger profile that is heavily controlled by their parents.
- It has been available on the Apple App Store and Amazon Appstore for a while now.
Kids’ involvement with technology has always been a touchy issue. Many adults today can remember their parents telling them not to sit too close to the television, as it could ruin your eyes (a myth that has been debunked). And younger adults may have been told not to play violent video games for too long as it could warp one’s sense of right and wrong (another debunked myth).
Today, the widespread concern for children is their involvement with social media, and certain child-advocacy groups are outraged by Facebook’s new app, Messenger Kids. The app is a highly-modified version of the standard Messenger app; it gives parents complete control over who their children are communicating with on mobile devices.
When the app first went live on iOS devices in December last year, an open letter co-signed by nineteen organizations and just under 100 child-advocates was published by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, calling for Mark Zuckerberg to pull the app from stores.
However, the app is still live in the Apple App Store and went live in the Amazon Appstore a short time later. Now, today, it hits the Google Play Store.
The app works by letting children set up their own “Child” account that is directly connected to a parent’s Facebook account. When the child initiates a chat, or someone tries to chat with the child, the app notifies the parent before the conversation can begin. If the parent knows the person is safe, they can then allow the communication to proceed.
Messenger Kids addresses the issue that there is a shortage of kid-friendly messenger apps available for mobile devices. Chat apps like Kik are essentially a predator’s heaven, as it is barely regulated and easy to get a child to start talking by making avatar photos famous cartoon characters, or merely pretending to be a trusted relative. While Messenger Kids may not be the perfect solution, it’s certainly a better solution than what is currently available.
It’s easy to point to social technology as being universally “bad” for kids and doing whatever it takes to bar them from accessing it. But if it’s OK for a child to use a phone to call Grandma, which almost all parents would agree to, why is it not OK for them to chat with Grandma via an instant messaging app? The problem isn’t the technology; the problem is the lack of parental control over that technology. And this new Messenger Kids app at least is attempting to give parents that control.
In the end, parents seem to like the app — it has a 3.5-star rating on both the Apple App Store and Amazon Appstore. In fact, a lot of the low reviews on Amazon are from people complaining that there was no Android version.
You can download the Messenger Kids app in the Google Play Store starting today.