A few weeks ago Facebook rolled out a preview of “Messenger Kids”, a new app that makes it easier for kids to safely video chat and message with family and friends. After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the US, Facebook found a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want. Messenger Kids lets parents download the app on their child’s phone or tablet, create a profile for them and approve friends and family with whom they can text and video chat from the main Messenger app. Whether it’s using video chat to talk to grandparents, staying in touch with cousins who live far away, or sending mom a decorated photo while she’s working late to say hi, Messenger Kids opens up a new world of online communication to families.

More Fun for Kids, More Control for Parents

Messenger Kids gives parents more control. Parents fully control the contact list and kids can’t connect with contacts that their parent does not approve. Kids still can’t be found through Facebook search, which protects their privacy. So if a child wants to be able to chat with one of their classmates, their parent must first friend that kid’s parent, and then will see the option to approve that adult’s child as a contact for their own kid.

Messenger Kids is full of features for kids to connect with the people they love. Once their account is set up by a parent, kids can start a one-on-one or group video chat with parent-approved contacts. The home screen shows them at a glance who they are approved to talk to, and when those contacts are online.

Playful masks, emojis and sound effects bring conversations to life. In addition to video chat, kids can send photos, videos or text messages to their parent-approved friends and adult relatives, who will receive the messages via their regular Messenger app. A library of kid-appropriate and specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools lets them decorate content and express their personalities.

“Video calls become so much more playful with AR,” says David Marcus, Facebook’s head of Messenger. Sometimes after 5 or 10 minutes it’s really hard to have a sustained conversation with a 7-year-old,” but kids can joke around with Grampa using the selfie filters when they run out of run-on stories to tell them.

Special proactive detection safety filters prevent children from sharing nudity, sexual content or violence, while a dedicated support team will respond quickly to reported or flagged content. Facebook even manually sifted Giphy to build a kid-friendly version of the GIF-sharing engine. And with childish augmented reality masks and stickers, video calls with grandma could be a lot more fun and a lot less silent or awkward.


Co-Developed with Parents, Kids and Experts

Facebook started research 18 months ago to find out what kids and parents wanted out of a potential product. It also worked with the National Parent Teacher Association for safety insights and Blue Star Families from the military who have to stay in touch during long deployments.

It found that kids had the right hardware but the wrong software; 93% of 6-12-year-olds in the U.S. have access to tablets or smartphones, while 66% have their own device, and three out of every five parents surveyed said their kids under 13 use messaging apps, social media or both. But these apps weren’t built for children’s privacy, and instead allow adult strangers to contact or follow kids.

Most apps say that kids have to be at least 13, but there’s nothing to stop younger children from signing up. That’s true on Facebook too, and it could do more to prevent tweens from signing up. But at least parents have grown to understand Facebook.

Facebook product management director Loren Cheng led the project. He’d spent the past few years on the “tough experiences” team that handles fake accounts, violent content, sexual exploitation, self-harm and counter-terrorism. Facebook built a whole portal at MessengerKids.com with more information for parents. Because children are involved, Facebook is trying to cross every T and dot every I when it comes to safety with this new product.

How to Get Started

Every child account on Messenger Kids must be set up by a parent. For parents, setting your child up with a Messenger Kids account is done in four steps:

  1. Download:First, download the Messenger Kids app on your child’s iPad, iPod touch, or iPhone from the App Store.
  2. Authenticate:Then, authenticate your child’s device using your own Facebook username and password. This will notcreate a Facebook account for your child or give them access to your Facebook account.
  3. Create an account:Finish the setup process by creating an account for your child, where all you’ll need to do is provide their name. Then the device can be handed over to the child so they can start chatting with the family and friends you approve.
  4. Add contacts:To add people to your child’s approved contact list, go to the Messenger Kids parental controls panel in your main Facebook app. To get there, click on “More” on the bottom right corner in your main Facebook app, and click “Messenger Kids” in the Explore section.

There are no ads in Messenger Kids and your child’s information isn’t used for ads. It is free to download and there are no in-app purchases. Messenger Kids is also designed to be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA).


Tags: , ,