As you’ve likely heard by now, Facebook recently launched its new Messenger Kids app. What you may not have heard is the collective roar spreading through the child development community.
Facebook is touting the app as an advertisement-free, parent-controlled platform for kids under 13 to be able to communicate more often and more creatively with family. But just this week a group of 100+ child development experts and policymakers sent an open letter to the company asking it to pull the app due to concerns about young children’s social media use.
At this point I should disclose that I was invited to sign the open letter by the group heading up the initiative, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Had I been more on top of my e-mails, I would have gladly signed the letter. Life just got in the way the past few weeks and buried me under e-mail. Such policy work is necessary by groups like CCFC. But I belive that these efforts, in order to be successful, must be accompanied by parents who actively engage in media parenting!
Whether or not Facebook follows the recommendations of child-health advocates remains to be seen. In the meantime, the question on the minds of many parents is, “Do I or don’t I let my child use the app.” Remember, we’re talking about kids 12 and under here. Not teenagers. Not adults. And when we deal with young children, the rules are different. Here are my four reasons why parents should not allow their kids to use the Facebook Messenger Kids app:
- Kids under 13 shouldn’t have a smartphone in the first place. Really the only thing a smartphone can do that a “dumb” phone can’t is access the Internet. At some point, yes, I think kids should be able to use a smartphone, especially when a parent is there teaching them how to use it correctly. But kids whose bodies haven’t yet reached puberty also have brains that haven’t matured to the point where having free access to the Internet is helpful. Kids will inevitably need to learn how to use a smartphone, but can’t it wait under they’re at least teenagers?
- Kids under 13 should not be on social media in the first place. Has any adult reading this ever have issues with social media? Ever gotten annoyed or frustrated at others’ comments? Ever wondered how to deal with harsh or polarizing comments, either from friends or strangers? Social media isn’t inherently bad, but it takes a special skillset to navigate the social intricacies of social media. Many adults don’t have these skills, so why would we allow kids without these skills have access to these same types of interactions. They’re just not ready.
- The app facilitates brand loyalty too early. While the Messenger Kids app does not allow advertising, young kids’ use of the app will engender brand loyalty to Facebook. App users will graduate to become real Facebook users, and we all know that Facebook is inundated with advertisements. I’m in favor of doing anything to keep kids from being persuaded (some might say manipulated) for as long as possible, and preventing brand loyalty to a source of advertising seems like an easy call for parents.
- What ever happened to a good, old-fashioned phone call? Why do we need to communicate through a commercial app? Why not encourage our kids to pick up the phone and have a real conversation with someone? Why not use the existing video chat technology we already have? Why not send a quick text during those times when a phone call can’t be made? Seems like the app reinvents the wheel only to draw kids into using a commercial product.
Blogger and educational media technologist Derek Baird said that “Too much TV is bad for kids. Too much sugar is bad for kids. And yes, too much social media is bad for kids…The key here is for parents to control how much TV, sugar, or social media their kids consume.”
I know not everyone will agree with me, but my reading of the body of research about children’s media use suggests that young kids’ social media diet should not start before they are ready. And that includes sharing a Facebook account with parents through an app targeted at young kids.