Given the increasingly crowded market of messaging apps and the rush by social media companies to engage a younger and younger audience, it was only a matter of time before Facebook developed a messaging service for children under the age of 13. It was launched just last week in the US and will undoubtedly move to Europe very soon. So, what do you need to know about this new development and most importantly, about how to keep your child safe using this or other messaging apps?

Facebook Messenger Kids is aimed at children aged 6-12. Many headlines since its launch have asked the legitimate question why would a six-year-old need to message anyone? There is definitely room for a wider debate on this one for sure. In order to have a messenger account kids under the age of 13 do not need a Facebook account. They will need their parents to set up a messenger account and control what contacts and content their child has access to via the app. Facebook know a lot about its users due to the algorithms that they use to collect data. They have published their policy for Facebook Messenger Kids and it is crucial that you read through this to make sure that you don’t object to anything in it if you are going to allow your child to use this app. Parents download Messenger Kids on their child’s account, after verifying their identity by logging into Facebook. Since kids cannot be found in search, parents must initiate and respond to friend requests. Facebook have said that there will not be advertisements as part of the app and that the data they do collect will not be used for the targeting of advertising to children. Also, Kids Messenger account will not automatically roll into a Facebook account when the child is 13. Needless to say, it is important to exercise a great degree of awareness as to what you are signing up to for your child. The recent controversy in relation to content on YouTube Kids is testament to the fact that there are always people out there who will see it as a challenge to corrupt content. No matter the best intentions of big social media platforms staying safe always starts with parental guidance.

Even as an adult using a messaging app we have to exercise caution and use common sense in relation to who you message and what content you share. With children in the age range of 6 to 12 it is absolutely crucial that they are made aware of the importance of what they need to do to stay safe in all online situations. When we visit primary schools, we reinforce the importance of the Stop, Block, Tell Rule, in particular for younger children as a first step in teaching them about the importance of immediately blocking someone who has sent them a message that has upset them and telling a trusted adult about what they have experienced. This may also be a good opportunity to introduce the concept of what we term in Zeeko a Chatbudi. A Chatbudi is a trusted adult over the age of 18 who your child knows who they can talk to about what they are experiencing when they are online. The good and the not so good things. Sometimes children find it easier to talk to an older cousin, an aunt or uncle or a grandparent rather than confiding in a parent. Having a Chatbudi is a way for your child to feel secure in having an open conversation in relation to what they are doing when they are online. Obviously, you have the comfort of knowing know the Chatbudi and they will be able to keep you in the loop about any concerns that they hear about.

Social media companies such as Facebook are going to continually strive to develop new products and services and also to attempt to grow their audience. That’s their business. Teaching your child to stay safe when they are messaging or spending any time online is one great way to help them stay protected.