Facebook has developed a new messenger app made for children ages 6 to 12.
The new app, entitled Messenger Kids, was designed by parents, kids and educational experts. Its purpose is to give children a safe way to talk to friends and family online.
Facebook started working on the app 18 months ago with the help of the National Parent Teacher Association. It quickly found there was a need for a children’s messaging app.
According to TechCrunch, around 93 percent of 6-to-12-year-olds in the US use tablets or smartphones and three out of every five parents say their kids under 13 already use messaging apps and/or social media.
The app centers around the element of control: parents or guardians pick their child’s contacts through their own Facebook profile. Children cannot make in-app purchases or add contacts on their own.
“Messenger Kids opens up a new world of online communication to families,” said Facebook Product Management Director Loren Cheng in a press release.
Already, the app has sparked controversy. RealClearPolitics associate editor and columnist A.B. Stoddard felt that this promotion of social media at such young age encourages children to grow up self-conscious.
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A recent study found that children who use screens excessively, often through social media, are 71 percent more likely to have at least one risk factor for suicide.
Some believe that this increased screen time on social media may influence a child negatively. The American Academy of Pediatrics released policy recommendation in 2016 that said parents should limit “screen time” for children. If children use screens too much, it can stunt development, cause lack of sleep, delayed speech or impaired concentration.
“It’s putting children at further risk of developing anxiety by encouraging them to be online more than in real life,” said education and parenting expert Sharon Witt.
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According to a Pew Research study, 65 percent of parents have taken their child’s cell phone or internet privileges away as a punishment, demonstrating how much kids depend on technology for fun. Another 39 percent of parents use parental controls for blocking, filtering or monitoring online activity. This study was conducted in 2015, so it is possible that these numbers have increased since then.
Parents are monitoring their children’s activity online increasingly as technology becomes more accessible to youth. Facebook’s new app makes social media easier to use for both parents and children, with parental controls as a safety net. Despite this safety net, there are legitimate concerns about what the messaging program would do for children’s self-esteem, safety, and development.