Facebook is rolling out a preview of Messenger Kids, a new standalone messaging app designed specifically for children who are under 13-years-old. The aim is to provide a safe way for children to video chat and message with family and friends, with parents having access to strict parental controls to ensure their kids are not being exposed to inappropriate content. The same can't be said for the vast majority of messaging apps out there, such as Snapchat and Facebook's full-fledged Messenger (both of which are not supposed to be used by children).
"After talking to thousands of parents, associations like National PTA, and parenting experts in the US, we found that there’s a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want," said Loren Cheng, Facebook's Product Management Director. "To give kids and parents a fun, safer solution, we built Messenger Kids, a standalone app that lives on kids’ tablets or smartphones but can be controlled from a parent’s Facebook account."
Ideally, Facebook envisions kids using its youth-oriented messaging app to video chat with grandparents, stay in touch with cousins and other relatives, chat with mom and dad, and so forth. To make sure this was something that would be approved by parents, Facebook said it developed Messenger Kids alongside the people who were going to use it, along with experts who could guide Facebook in the right directions.
"In addition to our research with thousands of parents, we’ve engaged with over a dozen expert advisors in the areas of child development, online safety, and children’s media and technology who’ve helped inform our approach to building our first app for kids. We’ve also had thought-provoking conversations around topics of responsible online communication, parental controls, and much more with organizations like National PTA and Blue Star Families, where we heard first hand how parents and caregivers approach raising children in today’s digitally connected world," Cheng added.
Parents are in charge of setting up an account for their kids in the new messaging app. Once it's configured, kids can start a one-on-one conversation or a group video chat, with parent-approved contacts. This way they are not talking with strangers. Approved contacts show up on the home screen, along with when those contacts are online.
Of course, this would not be a modern messaging app without pieces of flair, such as playful masks, emojis, frames, stickers, drawing tools, and sound effects. When a child sends a message through Messenger Kids, approved contacts will receive it through their regular Messenger app.
There are no ads in Messenger Kids, which Facebook says is designed to be fully compliant with the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). As part of that compliance, there are safety filters in place to prevent children from sharing mature content, such as nudity and violence. Facebook also has a support team in place to quickly respond to flagged content.
Messenger Kids is available now in the US in preview form. Parents can download the app to their child's iPad, iPod touch, or iPhone from the App Store. It then has to be authenticated using their own Facebook username and password. After that, parents can help their children setup an account and add approved contacts.