Is Facebook Messenger Kids Safe?
JUL 07, 2023
Is Facebook Messenger Kids Safe?
Human beings are social creatures and in today’s world, socializing and social media have become nearly inseparable.
By 2019, there were 7.6 billion people living on this planet and 5.1 billion of us (67%) had regular access to the internet. Of that 5.1 billion, 4.5 billion (nearly 90%), were active social media users—according to data from Hootsuite and We Are Social.
That means social media is going to be a part of nearly everyone’s lives—it’s just a matter of when. And that question—when—is critical to our kids’ well-being.
The Safe Messaging Challenge
Online messaging is one of the most frequently used features of social apps and a tool kids are most likely to beg their parents for. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of messaging apps available.
Most of these apps are made for adults and put little or no thought into keeping kids safe. In response to considerable pressure to make their platforms safer for kids, Meta (parent company of Facebook and Instagram) released the Messenger Kids app—an app marketed as a safe messaging experience for users under the age of 13.
While they do a pretty good job of presenting it as an ideal solution, there are still plenty of concerns for parents to be aware of.
Is Messenger Kids actually safe?
While Messenger Kids does add some useful safety features to the adult version of the app, serious risks still exist.
It offers the same basic features as its parent app, Facebook Messenger, but with added parental control. Meta specifically emphasizes a parent’s ability to manage a kid’s contact list, monitor messages, receive notifications when a contact is blocked, and set usage limits when it’s bedtime. The app also doesn’t allow in-app purchases or ads.
Parental Controls on Facebook Messenger Kids
- Management of a kids’ contact list
- No in-app purchases or ads
- Message monitoring
- Notifications when a contact is blocked
- Usage limits at bedtime
- No in-app purchases or ads.
Those are all good things but they came with some pretty annoying strings attached for parents.
No phone number is required to use Messenger Kids, so parents must have their own Facebook account to set up the messaging app for their child. To add a contact, a parent needs to be Facebook friends with the contact, or the parent of the contact.
So if my son made a friend at school and wanted to add him on Messenger Kids, I would need to add that friend’s parent through my own Facebook app, then request the friend be added as a contact.
The good news is this is a layer of protection for the child. The bad news is that it’s a huge hassle. And no parent needs more of those.
The end result for many parents is that they are reluctant to go through this process often. That means the child feels like they can’t actually message all the friends they want to, which in turn means families end up back at square one: a child arguing that they need a new messaging app or they’ll be left out of the loop.
Many families end up back at square one: a child arguing that they need a new messaging app or they’ll be left out of the loop.
This is a perfect example of why a custom safe messaging app for kids was one of the most common requests we received from parents and why we created Gabb Messenger.
For now, it’s only available on Gabb devices. If you’re not a Gabb user, we still wanted to give you a good idea of what risks you should be aware of on Messenger Kids.
Below we’ve pulled together the key threats still existent within the Facebook Kids Messenger app for you to be aware of.
Facebook Messenger Kids is designed to filter out inappropriate content, but the filtering is not perfect. Children may still be exposed to indecent photos and videos, foul language, or adult conversations.
Parents will need to check their child’s Messenger Kids account regularly to ensure that no inappropriate content is being sent or received.
In addition, it’s always a good idea for parents to be proactive about educating their children about what constitutes appropriate behavior online to keep them safe from unwelcome interactions and activities.
Messenger Kids doesn’t eliminate cyberbullying as a cause for concern. Its filtering is aimed at inappropriate content, so messages that might not register as explicit but are still rude or bullying can still reach kids.
Offensive messages, hurtful comments, and even harassment from peers are all real possibilities within Messenger Kids.
Messenger Kids allows video chats but does not filter those conversations or give parents the ability to review call recordings. This creates a serious risk for inappropriate conversations or harassment to occur via video call.
One major concern with Facebook is data privacy. Messenger Kids does not allow ads or any kind of commercial activity, and Facebook claims that the data collected is not used for marketing purposes. However, Facebook has not committed to deleting the data, and it is unclear how long it is held on its servers.
Considering Facebook’s less-than-stellar track record with data privacy, parents should weigh the costs versus the benefits of using Messenger Kids before giving their approval and granting their child access.
Screen addiction is one of the most common concerns with technology and children—a study by Common Sense Media showed kids 8-12 years old average nearly 5 hours of screen time per day. This concern also applies to Messenger Kids.
The app does offer parents features like Sleep and Online Status that allow parents to limit their child’s access to the app during specific times.
This could be used to help maintain a healthy balance between schoolwork, physical activities, and social media while preventing technology addiction.
Messenger Kids may offer more safety measures than the adult version of the app by giving parents a level of control, but threats of exposure to inappropriate content and cyberbullying, as well as video call and data privacy concerns, mean there are still plenty of risks. Especially for kids under the age of 13.
If you’re uneasy with some of the dangers on Facebook Messenger Kids, don’t risk it. The stakes are too high.
There are safer options for kids to learn critical communication skills without the high risks. If you feel your child is ready for their own device and needs to begin learning how to communicate digitally, take a look at Gabb Messenger and see if it’s a better fit.
What do you think? Please comment below about your experience with Facebook Messenger Kids or let us know if you have additional questions. Gabb is all about creating a community of tech-informed parents so we can work together to keep our kids safe.