Facebook has finally extended availability of their children’s messaging app called “Kids Messenger” rated 4+ Made for Ages 9-11 (confusing age rating) to more countries, after launching it in the U.S in 2017. With children not attending school due to COVID-19 in many countries around the world, but needing to stay in contact with friends online, availability of safe cross-platform (Apple/Android/Windows) messaging apps for children, with parental controls have been limited.
There have previously been attempts at safer messaging apps for children with parental controls, but the uptake of them has been limited, probably due to lack of awareness of them, and parents feeling that they were not very necessary. Certainly now, with distance learning and isolation, it is essential that children, can communicate safety online with each other. The COVID19 Pandemic has seen huge uptake of video style message apps and video conferencing platforms like Google Meet, Zoom, FaceTime and more.
What Does Kids Messenger Do?
Kids Messenger owned by Facebook is a cross platform video/messaging app, with built in parental controls. It is available on PC and mobile devices, and can be used on Windows/Apple and Android operating systems. It comes with some games, drawing tools, fun filters, reactions, sound effects, and stickers. The app encourages you to share photos and videos with friends as well as chat. You can create groups of friends in the app, and chat via text or video. There is no advertising within the app, or in-app purchasing – requirement for payments for any add ons.
The built in parental controls include time limits, adding contacts approval and monitoring tools to view chat and exchange of photos, GIF’s, stickers etc. There is no phone number required, so this app can be used on a wifi only device. The parental controls are only available to two parent/guardians at the moment. It also requires the parents/guardians to be “friends” on Facebook, which could be awkward for separated families.
A safe code can be enabled so that children can share that to add a contact instead of a phone number.
Facebook requires parents to have a Facebook account but not the child. Parental controls are managed via the parent Facebook account, where parents can control contact lists and monitor messages. Children cannot delete any of their content, so that parents can see what has been shared and sent previously without it being deleted. Some new additions to the settings are listed Here:
What Has The Response Been Like From Parents?
Kids Messenger does come with some past baggage with a recent privacy/security breach and concerns from many privacy and child safety advocates, including www.commonsensemedia.org who rate this app at 13+, about the data collected from the app. There are concerns that “Kids Messenger” might be a “gateway” for Facebook to use children’s data in the future if, and when, children sign up for Facebook.
Overall the reaction from parents I have spoken to, and from feedback I’ve seen online, is very positive. Some recent reviews have however, also complained about parents being unable to turn off constant notifications of new calls and messages coming in, resulting in them turning or disabling the app to “get some peace and quiet”
Apple FaceTime vs Kids Messenger
Whilst Apple’s FaceTime and Messenger apps do have similar parental controls, Apples are through Apples Screentime parental controls, the problem with mass adoption of Apple Messenger and FaceTime has always been, that Apple software only works on Apple devices. I would not be surprised to see quite soon an Apple Messenger/Facetime Android version, but this has never been announced by Apple in the past. Apple has historically had more reliable security and privacy than Facebook but even with parental controls on Apple, the cross platform ability is a problem for many.
Is Kids Messenger Safe For Kids?
The bottom line with any messaging app or video chatting platform for children is that their safety is paramount. Children’s messages must be secure and unable to be shared with 3rd parties other than a trusted adult. Children’s personal data must not be captured or used for marketing or for profiling them. Online platforms must comply with COPPA the Children Online Privacy Protection Act which require a 13+ rating or parental permission and protection of children’s data if targeted at users under 13yrs. Facebook have gone to extensive measures to protect children’s privacy and security with parental controls, and agreements not to sell data to 3rd parties, but like all messaging apps, the real security and safety is determined by the use of the app, and relies on Facebook to secure the data against hacking and misuse. Time will tell if Facebooks Kids Messenger lives up to its promises.
Setting Parental Controls
Setting Time Limits
How To Use Kids Messenger Safely
For any messaging or video chat to be used safely by children some essential safety boundaries must be set, even if parents can see what is being said or shared. If you set reliable boundaries up early, it helps children to be able to use all message apps with more safety.
Reporting Nasty Behaviour
What Steps Parents Can Take For Safety
- Check age ratings and reviews for messaging and video chat apps before downloading. Check www.commonsensemedia.org for reviews
- Agree on a safe place to chat – family room – not bedrooms or bathrooms
- Agree on when and where video chat can occur. Agree on time limits.
- Have a discussion around appropriate attire and behaviour when video chatting – no nudity or bathroom chat – unsafe risky prank or dare/challenge like behaviour
- Discuss how text only chat can sometimes be misinterpreted or the meaning misunderstood
- Discuss safe appropriate sharing of content – videos – photos. No sneaky videos or photos without permission.
- Set boundaries around respectful online behaviour – no mean posts – fighting – abuse
- Discuss openly about what parents can see and monitor through the parental controls. Build trust with open disclosure
- Set agreements about safe disclosure if the child experiences anything confusing or upsetting online, or does something wrong. Children must trust parents will cope with an upsetting episode
- Set reasonable consequences for breaking any rules or boundaries whilst allowing children to keep in contact with safe friends. Brainstorm with children what those consequences might be. Don’t threaten to ban it all!
- Set strict boundaries around who they may contact and share with. Trusted friends only, approved by parent/guardian
- Parents are encouraged to supervise closely with younger children on messaging apps, try to keep your supervision mostly positive.
- Be sure to install any security updates that messaging apps require to ensure the app is up to date.
- Check all the settings in messaging apps to make sure you know exactly what needs to be checked off or switching on or off. e.g “locking meeting rooms” in Houseparty or Zoom
To find out more about Kids Messenger and how to use it go to Facebooks Help Page Here. The official website for the app is Here: You can find out about reporting messages, blocking and setting up the app for your child.
What has your experience with Facebooks Kids Messenger been so far? Please let me know in the comments.