It’s no surprise that kids are using technology at a pretty young age these days, and a key part of that is using it to communicate with friends and family. But most kids tend to use tablets or iPod Touches that don’t have phone numbers, so normal texting and video chats are a no-go (unless it’s with mommy’s phone, which isn’t always great for mommy). Sure you could use an app like FaceTime or Hangouts, but most of them don’t offer the kind of control that parents want, especially for really young kids. Facebook, however, has come up with a solution. It’s called Messenger Kids and yes, it’s basically a standalone child-friendly Messenger app with parental controls baked right in.
Before you balk at the idea of having to sign your kid up on Facebook, don’t worry you won’t have to. In fact, your kid doesn’t need a Facebook account at all in order to use Messenger Kids. You, however, do. That’s because it uses the parent’s Facebook account to set up the child’s Messenger Kids account.
Here’s how it works. When you download the Messenger Kids app, the first thing you’ll do is authorize it with your own Facebook account. This does not log you into the tablet — all it does is use your account to authenticate it. You then create a completely separate Messenger Kids account with your child’s first and last name. Again, this does not create a Facebook account for the child, and their name will not be publicly searchable. Oh, and don’t worry, Messenger Kids is also ad-free.
So how is your kid supposed to make friends on Messenger Kids? Well, the only way they can do that is through you. The parents are the only people who can add contacts for their kids. And the only way they can do that is through Facebook. Adding adult family members like grandpa and grandma is easy, because they likely already have Facebook accounts. Adults can use the normal Messenger app to talk to the kids on Messenger Kids — it’s completely interoperable.
But let’s say your child wants to befriend other children, like his classmate Peggy, on Messenger Kids. What then? In this case, you have to already be Facebook friends with Peggy’s parents. If Peggy is already on Messenger Kids, you’ll see her name under her parent’s name and you can tap it to add her as a friend to your child. Peggy’s parents will then have to approve your contact request in order to add your child to Peggy’s friends list.
And, of course, parents can remove Messenger Kids contacts at any time from their own account, and the child cannot reinstate an account that have been removed. On top of that, Messenger Kids has report and block controls within the app itself, so kids can report and block people if they want. And, any time a child reports or blocks anyone, their parents will get a notification letting them know about it. Loren Cheng, a product manager at Facebook who led the Messenger Kids project, said that the company actually has a dedicated team at Facebook who looks at all the reports, and will proactively ban any account that is seen as harmful.