Facebook on Monday announced it would be rolling out a preview of Messenger Kids in the United States, a new parent-controlled app to make it easier for kids to video chat and message with loved ones.
In a company blog post, Antigone Davis – public policy director and global head of safety at Facebook – wrote that the media site has been working on the product for the past 18 months, working closely with leading child development experts, parents and educators.
Davis named some reasons Facebook decided to create Messenger Kids and why they decided to create it right now.
She cited research that shows some 93 percent of U.S. kids ages six to 12 have access to tablets or smartphones – and 66 percent have their own device, often using apps meant for teens and adults.
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In a collaboration with the National Parent Teacher Association on a study with more than 1,200 American parents of children under the age of 13, Facebook found three out of every five parents surveyed said their kids under 13 use messaging apps, social media or both, while 81 percent reported their children started using social media between the ages of 8 and 13.
Kids said they want to use the platforms to have fun and connect with family. But safety is a growing concern among parents.
"My concern is safety, getting friend requests from people you don't know, chatting with people you don't know, giving out information to strangers," one parent participant in the National PTA roundtable said.
With the guidance of experts at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, Center on Media and Child Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics among others, Facebook developed a set of principles for Messenger Kids:
– Putting kids first
– Providing a safe space that fosters joy, humor, play and adventure
– Enabling kids to mine their own potential by building for empowerment, creativity and expression
– Helping kids build a sense of self and community
– Recognizing the relationship between parent and child, and that we take our responsibility and their trust in us seriously.
"We created Messenger Kids with the belief that parents are ultimately the best judges of their kids' technology use, and the parents we've spoken to have asked for a better way to control the way their children message," Davis wrote.
Because research on the long-term effects of screen time and technology on children is still limited, Facebook also announced a $1 million research fund to work with experts to explore the growing concerns.
ABOUT THE NEW MESSENGER KIDS APP
The Messenger Kids app, aimed at kids ages 6-12, is rolled out Dec. 4 on iOS in the U.S. An Android version is coming soon.
It's important to note that kids under 13 are still not allowed to sign up for a Facebook account. Instead, parents can download the app on their child's iPhone or iPad, create their profile and approve friends and family for their kids to chat with directly from the main Messenger app.
Kids will not show up in Facebook search results, so if a kid wants to chat with a friend, the parent will have to work with the friend's parent to get them both approved. "This is by far the most clumsy part of Messenger Kids," TechCrunch reported.
Facebook added special proactive detection safety filters to prevent children from sharing sexual content, nudity or violence. A dedicated support team will work 24/7 to address any flagged issues. Parents won't be able to spy on their kids' chats.
To ensure an enjoyable experience, the company created a kid-friendly version of the Giphy GIF sharing engine. Kids can also play around with augmented reality masks and stickers, including fidget spinners and dinosaur AR masks.
According to TechCrunch, Facebook will not be directly monetizing the kids app, but hopes they will become dedicated Facebook users in the future.