Facebook has announced that it’s launching a messaging app just for kids, confirming that the days of walkie talkies and tin cans with strings are far behind us.
Called Messenger Kids, the app is designed to allow users from the ages of 6 to 12 to communicate with friends and family on mobile devices without the need for any kind of phone number or Facebook account. For example, kids who have a tablet or iPod without any kind of SIM card will be able to use Messenger Kids with a WiFi connection.
As it's illegal for children under the age of 13 in the US to have a Facebook account, the Messenger Kids app won’t require children to set up any kind of Facebook account. Instead, it’ll be tied to an adult’s Facebook account and it’ll have parental controls included.
Upon downloading the Messenger Kids app (yes, it is yet another standalone Messaging app for your device’s storage to content with) parents will be asked to authenticate it with their own Facebook account.
After this they’ll be able to set up a user within the Messenger Kids app that uses their child’s full name. None of the details entered into the app will be publicly searchable and Facebook has confirmed that it’s entirely ad-free, making us only slightly envious.
The parental gatekeeping doesn’t stop here, though - it’ll be up to the responsible adult to decide who their child is able to connect with on Messenger Kids as contacts are added through Facebook itself.
If, for example, a child wants to message a friend from school it’ll be up to the parents to befriend one another on Facebook and link their children’s Messenger accounts. Connections have to be mutually agreed before the kids can start talking to one another.
If you or any of your family members you’re connected with on Facebook want to message your child, it’s possible to do so through the ordinary Messenger app.
Kids will have some controls over their Messenger account - they’ll be able to report and block other users (though parents will get a notification when they do so) and Facebook has said it has a dedicated Messenger Kids team who’ll look into these reports.
The Messenger Kids app is fairly similar to the adult Messenger app in terms of overall interface, although it's much brighter. It seems likely that Facebook is using the fact that children are accessing technology at much younger ages to familiarise them with Facebook applications and create something of a user pipeline.
It will, after all, be natural for a child that's been using the Messenger Kids app from the ages of 6 to 12 to create a Facebook account of their own at the age of 13 and continue to communicate with the messaging app they're familiar with.
Rather than encouraging text chat, Messenger Kids places heavy emphasis on real-time video calls which allow them to use emoji, selfie frames and stickers. Rather than taking these stickers from the main Messenger app, Facebook has created art that’s age-appropriate and in some cases intended to educate.
The app is still in the early stages of its release and is currently in a preview-only state in the US for iOS users. Later this month it’ll be rolled out to Android users though there's no word on any plans to extend the app to any more countries at the moment.
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Emma Boyle is TechRadar’s ex-Gaming Editor, and is now a content developer and freelance journalist. She has written for magazines and websites including T3, Stuff and The Independent. Emma currently works as a Content Developer in Edinburgh.