Facebook Messenger Kids Debuts as a Texting App for Children Ages 12 and Under

Kids have to wait until they turn 13 to create a Facebook account, but the social networking giant has a new app aimed at weaning younger users onto its service while also trying to convince parents that their children are safe in Facebook’s hands.

On Monday, Facebook rolled out its new “Messenger Kids” app for iOS devices for kids as young as six years old. Parents can download the app on their kids’ smartphones or tablets, and create profiles for them before letting them send text messages and video chat with parent-approved family and friends in the Facebook universe. “After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the U.S., we found that there’s a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want,” Facebook product management director Loren Cheng wrote in a blog post announcing the new app.

Facebook’s announcement was adamant that Messenger Kids does not create a Facebook account for children, and only parents can approve family members and other kids to be added to their own child’s contact list. (Facebook told BuzzFeed that parents actually need to be Facebook friends with the parents of any children they want to add to their own kids’ contact lists.) Parents who download the standalone messaging app for their children are able to closely monitor who their kids are chatting with, and only parents are able to update and manage their kids’ contact lists from the app’s parental controls panel through the parents’ primary Facebook app.

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Once parents set up the app, their children can open Messenger Kids and see a list of their approved contacts, as well as which ones are currently online. They can send texts to those contacts, or start a video chat, while also choosing from a kid-friendly selection of emoji, GIFs, frames, stickers, masks, and tools for drawing doodles in the app.

The Messenger Kids app is aimed at kids between the ages of 6 and 12, Facebook told reporters on Monday, and that age range opens up a new demographic of younger users that Facebook can now get started on a Facebook-branded product years before they might be old enough to actually create their own official Facebook account. Considering Facebook said the Messenger Kids app will not show kids any advertisements or offer in-app purchases, it does seem like the primary reason the free-to-download app exists, from a business perspective, is to get more people engaged with a Facebook product at a much younger age. (Facebook added “your child’s information isn’t used for ads,” which helps the app comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protections Act.)

Facebook also said it will closely monitor the content shared on Messenger Kids to prevent any users from sharing sexual or violent content, with a support team in place to respond quickly to anything flagged as inappropriate by children or parents. Messenger Kids also includes tools for kids to report any online harassment or cyber-bullying, which has been a major issue for official Facebook users for years. Facebook has taken various steps to curb bullying on its platform, but the social networking service is still often criticized for not doing more, as data shows that large numbers of Americans are still subjected to online harassment, with Facebook being a frequent venue for that type of behavior.

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Joan Guzman