According to Facebook research, 93 percent of kids ages 6 to 12 have access to a tablet or smartphone. The number-one concern of their parents is not being able to control who they text, snap, Facetime or chat with. Enter a new, free app called Messenger Kids that gives a significant amount of control to the parents.
Here's how it works: Once you set up Messenger Kids on a device that your child uses, your child has to tell you who they want to be able to intertact with. You add and approve their contacts through your own, regular Messenger account. (Messenger Kids will not create a Facebook account for your child, nor does it include any advertising.) This is all easy if 1) you have a Messenger account yourself and 2) so do the family members and parents of the close friends your child wants to reach out to, since parents are all involved in the approval process.
Messeger Kids might get a little trickier as your child grows and begins to make acquaintances outside of your circle of social-media friends. Using my own life as an example, my 12-year-old son Joe often makes friends in his afterschool coding class, but I barely know the kids and rarely meet the parents, because we tend to pick up our children at different times. I'm definitely not Facebook friends with the parents, and if Joe said "I want to video-chat with Pete" I'd have to track down and friend one of Pete's parents in order for them to do it in Messenger Kids. It's honestly easier for our kids to just exchange numbers and Facetime each other, but, of course, that is where parents lose control of what's going on.
It seems to me that Messenger Kids is best for younger kids, like ages 6 to 8, who are just starting out. You tend to be close to their friends' parents at that stage. And the video-chat is especially fun for them; you can do it one-on-one or as a group, and with silly filters that are reminiscent of SnapChat. Your child can make himself look like a dinosaur, for instance, while he's talking, or make it rain poop Emojis on the screen!
A few other notes: Your child can't erase his history on Messenger Kids, so you can go into his device and see what he's been up to. Also, the app is patrolled and policed, and you'll get a message flagging whether your child has sent any content deemed inappropriate. (But the message won't specify what was offensive; you'll have to have that conversation with your child.)
Messenger Kids is definitely a way to ensure that you know who your child is talking to...and it's also a way for Facebook to ensure that parents stay engaged and active with their accounts!
Messenger Kids is free and available now for iOS devices only; Android is coming soon.
Jessica Hartshorn is the Entertainment Editor at Parents Magazine and a mom of two children, ages 12 and 15, who are very frequently on their own screens.