Last Monday, Facebook launched their Messenger Kids app, the-kid friendly, parent-moderated version of their popular Facebook messenger feature. Messenger Kids is a stand alone app aimed at kids ages six through thirteen that parents with a Facebook account can set up for their kids. Facebook has stated that the Messenger Kids app will not have ads, which is great, but the bottom line is, as RT.com says, “The app is part of a strategic effort by Facebook to increase the number of people who rely on its service to connect with others regularly.”
So many of us adults rely on Facebook, and now Facebook wants us to rely on it even more heavily to communicate with our kids and to facilitate communication between our kids and their friends.
I don’t need to be more reliant on Facebook than I already am. I would much much rather be less reliant on Facebook, actually. But that’s just about the least important of the reasons my kids will not be on Messenger Kids.
The real reason is that my kids don’t need another form of technology to get addicted to.
From everything I’ve read it appears that Messenger Kids’ creators have put lots of safeguards in place to make sure that Messenger Kids actually is safe for our children. For instance, all new friend requests come to the parents’ Facebook account instead of to the kids’ messenger account. And if your child wants to communicate with another child, you must be Facebook friends with that child’s parent before you can add them.
That’s all well and good, and because I know so many parents will take advantage of this Messenger Kids app, I am glad that Facebook has put these safety measures in place.
But. I still won’t let my kids be on it.
Here’s the thing, friends: even social media that is “safely” designed for our kids is still bad for our kids. A safe kids app like Messenger Kids still gives our very young children the chance to be hooked on “likes” and attention from their peers. Science says those “likes” release dopamine in the brain and leaves them wanting more. I have a hard enough time moderating my kids’ use of video games and YouTube, I don’t need to give them another outlet to obsess over. Apps like Messenger Kids (which, with all it’s fun filters and features is HONESTLY a DIRECT competitor with SnapChat) give our kids a really intense chance to turn their attention inward, on themselves and how others view and “like” them—and that’s not healthy.
Think I’m exaggerating? Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, whose reviews I trust, told Quartzy.com that “This effort opens up children’s younger and more impressionable brains to serious concerns around attention, addiction, and distraction, which should be a huge issue for any parent. Younger kids clearly represent very inviting targets for the current tech industry arms race for your attention.”
Yes, our kids do make fantastic targets. If your child is on Messenger Kids, their account AUTOMATICALLY converts to a regular Messenger account when they turn 13. UMMM, no thanks. A LOT less parental controls there. And, Facebook is being up front about the data they are collecting about your child and how he or she uses Messenger. Again, HARD PASS on Facebook collecting data about my kid. One parent reviewer on Common Sense Media says, “As a teacher and parent, read the TOS [terms of service]. The collection of data is definitely problematic and I would not recommend using this at all. Way too much data to collect…”
Bottom line: it sounds fun, but it’s not worth the risks to your child. If your six-to-twelve year old needs to contact friends, they can have you call them on their mommy’s phone just like we’ve always done. No filter or terms of service required.