Facebook has just released the Messenger Kids app to the US market, their first product for users under the age of 13. The standalone video chat and messaging application is now available as a free download for iOS, with both Android and Kindle versions expected early in the new year. Messenger Kids has most of the functions available in the full version of Facebook Messenger, even including kid-friendly masks and filters. Since the app is designed for children, there are no ads (or sponsored filters) and no in-app purchases. The app allows kids to connect with parent-approved family and friends–connections can only be added or removed by the parent account and kids cannot communicate with unapproved contacts. Messenger Kids is truly a separate application–while it communicates directly with Facebook Messenger, users are not migrated to Facebook when they turn 13 and any data collected is not used for ads (even in related accounts).
The Facebook Messenger Kids application offers parents the opportunity to teach both communication etiquette and online safety. Both the message and video chat windows in Messenger Kids are nearly identical to the standard Messenger application, allowing parents to demonstrate the skills that children need to appropriately use online communication.
Children need training and practice in basic communication skills: how do you have a conversation, when do you talk and when do you listen, how do you respond to emotions of the person you are talking with? Technology can help facilitate that kind of communications, and help kids get the learning they need. When I was a kid, my parents taught me how to talk on the phone: how to answer it, how to leave messages, how to initiate a call, and how to have conversation with it. The digital world is the same: kids need the chance to talk with their friends and their family, and they need a safe space to learn how to do it.
– Dr. Barb Chamberlin, New Mexico State University Learning Games Lab
Communication is seamless between the standard and kids’ version of Messenger–giving children the ability to communicate with approved Facebook users directly without requiring the Facebook users to download a special kid-friendly application. With those communications in mind, the Messenger Kids app includes systems that can detect that can detect certain types of abusive content and help keep it from appearing. There are additional Community Standards safety features built-in, including the ability for kids to report content or other Messenger Kids accounts; parents are notified when their child files a report or if their child sends content that gets reported by another child (this notification will provide tips for conversations).
The question that remains is not if another messaging application is needed, but if Facebook Messenger Kids is the right online communication tool for your family.