Every parent’s worst nightmare just came true, thanks to Facebook. With the social media giant launching their latest app targeted at children as young as six, there have been huge debates around the world. While most technology companies do not usually make products with children under 13 in mind, Facebook hopes to be the first to have an app for kids aged six to 12. However, is this good news for everyone?
Known as Messenger Kids, the just-launched app from Facebook goes where no other technology company has gone before. Many older children and a huge portion of the adult population are already on Facebook, so the company has decided to target those not yet on the social media platform: younger children.
This, many say, is a clever way of introducing children as young as six to social media and increasing the followers of Facebook.
Enabling children access to a messaging app does seem like a good way to help them adopt technology in a healthy way, though not everyone is pleased with the launch. A large number of parents have expressed unease at the company targeting young children. Is there truly any reason for this?
What Does Messenger Kids do?
The newest app from the stable of Facebook is much like its standard messaging app, but more limited in scope. Children can text and video chat, and they can add filters or playful drawings to the photos they send. According to Facebook, all filters and animations are age-appropriate.
However, children have minimal control over how they use the service. Children using the app need to have a Facebook account set up by their parents, who also enter the information of the child into the app and select the people the child chats with on the app. The child also needs to be friends with their parents on Facebook in order to use the app.
Facebook stated that the whole purpose of Messenger Kids is to provide children with a “more controlled environment” for social and digital activities. Children already use the mobile devices of their parents, so the company decided to come up with technology meant for kids. The company also said that it has spent several months talking to parenting groups, child behavioral experts, and safety organizations to ensure the app is not only stellar but also very safe for kids to use.
Aside from using the service to chat and send photos and videos, children themselves have no control over the app. Children will not be searchable within the app and parents have to approve every new contact request. Facebook says this will keep parents informed about who their kids are talking to while also giving them a controlled amount of freedom.
Facebook has also added that the information collected from kids will not be used for marketing purposes, and child accounts will not be automatically be converted to adult accounts when the user turns 13. The company believes such monitored usage of the app will help children adapt well to technology and enable them to use social media more responsibly as adults.
What’s the Debate About?
Parents and child experts have obvious reasons to be wary of young children using social media. While most parents think that Facebook will only intrude into young lives with this new app, others believe that children’s access to technology is inevitable and will happen sooner rather than later. Besides, there’s the concern about children giving out personal information, which hackers and cyber criminals could use for unethical purposes.
Not too many companies have ventured into the kids market. This is because of the federal law (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, known as COPPA) that requires services targeted at children to get verifiable parental consent for collecting, using, or disclosing personal information (photos, videos, contacts, messages, location, etc.) from a child under 13. Since most companies do not want the additional hassle of obtaining parental consent, they do not make services aimed at children under 13. And yet, here’s Facebook being brave with an app targeted towards six-year-olds. Clearly, they understand the barriers and see the benefits that are possible.
Many parents think there’s already too much technological interference in their kids’ lives. Whether it’s the TV or the mobile phone, or the Internet, kids today spend a heaping amount of time in front of screens. However, because the internet has permeated every aspect of our lives, it only makes sense to offer options for those parents and children who see the positives in controlled exposure to social media.
There’s a massive amount of evidence that proves the harmful effects technology has on kids. Scientific evidence shows that children who use social media for more than three hours a day are more prone to suffering from mental illness like depression and anxiety. The social skills and abilities to actively listen and show empathy are also affected by the excessive use of social media and technological devices. Because of studies such as those that have shown the negative effects of excessive screen time, parents really have to make informed decisions about what kinds of limits they place on their kids’ usage of social media.
These days, there is the added danger of cyber-crime and cyber bullying. Children are vulnerable and often expose personal information that could be used for unethical purposes. This poses a huge risk and can get children embroiled in unknown dangers. Children are also keen to develop unrealistic expectations from others when their social skills are affected. Since there is no physical communication involved in social media, it can be difficult for kids to learn how to interact with others in real life if they are too dependent on technology as their social life.
The question is: do kids aged six to 12 need a messaging app? The answer is no. They meet friends at school and spend a large part of their day with them. They do not need to chat with them online when they are home from school. They need to spend time outdoors, actively engaged in sports and other activities, spend time being productive doing things like walking their dog, and of course, doing their homework!
Children most importantly should be using their time to interact with their parents and peers, focusing on their studies, and engaging in other constructive activities. However, when it comes to leisure and free time, they should be able to use social media, at the discretion of their parents, if they deem it a worthy option for entertainment.
The Messenger Kids app has been launched in a preview mode on Apple’s iOS devices and will be made available to more people in the coming months. If the app is successful, then Facebook is set to reap more profit and most likely gain some new users.