Facebook addressed internet safety concerns for kids ages 6-12 by developing Messenger Kids, a video and chat app. Unlike other messaging apps, parents completely control and supervise the app. You can keep your child as safe as possible by setting up parental controls and talking with your child regularly.
Here’s how you set up parental controls and keep your child safer online:
- Set Sleep Mode to limit which days and times your child can use the app.
- Use optional four-word codes for friending.
- Set the contact list to private to only you and your child.
- Set friending to “Only I can choose contacts.”
- Enable tappable link notifications.
- Block, report, or remove inappropriate contacts or content.
Above all, make sure to have open conversations with your child about their online activity. When you’re aware of how they feel and what is going on, you can keep them safer and happier on Messenger Kids.
Kids are eager to get online. Nine out of ten kids aged six to twelve have access to a smartphone or tablet, according to Facebook. Keeping kids safe online is a tall order for parents, one that some media moguls are responding to with kid-focused messaging apps, like Facebook’s Messenger Kids. Since the release of the messaging app in 2017, parents have been wondering: how safe is Messenger Kids?
The Facebook Messenger Kids app is unique amongst video, chat, and social media apps for children. It gives parents complete supervision over the app’s settings and content. These parental controls, when combined with open conversation, make the app one of the safest for younger kids. Child and parent can work together to create a safe and fun online experience.
How Facebook Messenger Kids Works: A Parent-Led Approach
Messenger Kids is a video and messaging app loaded with fun filters, stickers, and emojis, that connects children with friends and family. Parents set limits, adjust safety features, and keep an eye on activities. Messenger Kids is unlike other messaging apps, because it was designed for parents to guide their kids through their first experience with these kinds of apps. It gives parents total access to all features and content within the app.
Another way in which Messenger Kids is different from other messaging apps is that your child’s account is created through your pre-existing Facebook account. From your account, your Parent Dashboard tracks your child’s activity and hosts safety features. After you’ve created the account, your child can download the app onto a smartphone or tablet and start chatting.
There are three tabs in the Parent Dashboard: “Activity,” “Contacts,” and “Controls.” Within these tabs, you can supervise everything your child is doing. You can review recent activity, report or remove any inappropriate content or contacts, and adjust safety features. With your approval, your child can add friends and family as contacts, join group chats, and share videos and photos. Your child can block or report contacts or content, too.
Is Facebook Messenger Kids Safe?
Facebook Messenger Kids is a useful app that helps children get used to the online experience under the watchful eye of their parents. Parents will, however, have to be aware of the potential risks, the way Facebook deals with your child’s privacy, and the settings Messenger Kids allows you to alter.
Risks of Using Messenger Kids
While the Messenger Kids app gives parents total control, there is no way for you or your child to have a risk-free experience online. There are risks to using any messaging app, Facebook Messenger Kids included. These include:
- Cyberbullying from approved contacts, which can lead to anxiety and depression
- Risk of addiction to social media that affect your child’s ability to pay attention at home, at school, and engage in other social activities
- Data leaks by cybercriminals who may sell your information on the dark web
- App flaws like the 2019 Messenger Kids glitch that allowed kids to chat with unapproved contacts
- Strangers posing as friends
These risks exist with any app you and your child use, including Messenger Kids.
What data does Facebook Messenger Kids collect?
Popular apps like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram require users to sign up for an account. Users must be at least 13 years of age in compliance with the Child’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA), which limits the type of information commercial sites collect from kids under 13. Facebook Messenger Kids bypasses COPPA because parents use their own Facebook account to sign up their child for Messenger Kids. This means your child’s data and app activity are still collected.
It’s important to be aware of the data Messenger Kids collects so you can make calculated decisions about what information to share. Messenger Kids has its own method of data collection, which includes collecting:
- Registration details you and your child provide, like a name, login details, profile picture, gender, and birthday
- All content shared and received, like photos, videos, and messages
- All activity on the app, including the features used, people contacted, and times of activity
- Connections and contacts, and how your child interacts with these contacts
- Device information such as your IP address, operating system, device settings and identifiers, language, and time zone
While there are no ads or purchases on Messenger Kids, Facebook may also send surveys for your child to complete.
Facebook states they use this information to improve the app, communicate with users, and promote safety and security. But in the case of a data leak (as happened in 2020 when Facebook data from 2019 was published online), your information may still be vulnerable.
Parental controls and safety features in Messenger Kids
In response to safety concerns, Facebook developed and continues to add features that keep parents in the driver’s seat. These features help parents review all content activity that’s been sent or received and set important safety controls within the app. This means that:
- Children can’t delete message history.
- You can log your child out from a remote device.
- Parents can download activity logs.
- There are options to set parental controls.
- You can report, block, and remove inappropriate content or contacts.
- Settings allow notifications to be sent when your child reports or blocks a contact or content.
The key to these safety features, however, is to actively use them. We’ve detailed how to use some of the safety features mentioned above so you can stay engaged in your child’s app activity.
How to Keep Your Kids Safe While Using the Facebook Messenger Kids App
There are two things you can do to keep your children safe while they use Facebook Messenger Kids. Firstly, you have to make sure they can use the app safely by adjusting the right settings. Secondly, you can supervise and block content or people when necessary. Finally, you should make sure to keep talking to your children, so they’re aware of the risks and know when and how to react.
Set up the right parental controls
To keep your child safe, you should take time to review the features and set them to the safest settings. In the Parent Dashboard, there is the “Controls” tab. Select this tab to change the safety features.
Here, you can adjust different parental control options. We’d suggest making the following changes:
- Sleep mode: Activate sleep mode to limit the days and times when your child can use the app. This can reduce the risk of addiction and help your child understand healthy boundaries surrounding screen time.
- Your Child’s Code: Use optional four-word codes to limit who can request to connect with your child’s account.
- Contact List Visibility: Choose to set the contact list to private.
- Friending: Set supervise friends to “Only I can choose contacts” so only you can add or remove contacts. This means you’ll know exactly who your child is talking to and whether or not they pose a cyberbullying or stranger risk.
- Links: Enable tappable link notifications that require parent verification when your child is sent a link. You can also disable links altogether so your child can’t send or receive links. Facebook blocks content from some sites but ultimately does not control the content your child sends or receives.
Supervise and block content or people
Beyond these parental controls, you also have the option to block contacts and remove content.
- Block a contact: tap the photo of the person you want to block to open the message box. At the top of the chat, tap the contact’s photo. Tap “Block.” If you want to report a contact, tap “Report” right underneath. Select the reason such as “This person is being mean,” “This person is making me feel weird,” “I don’t know this person,” or “Something else.”
- To remove inappropriate content, go to your child’s account, select the “Activity” tab, click on the image. Click “Remove.” The image or video will be removed from your child’s thread and your view in the Parent Dashboard. Keep in mind that other people in the chat, and their parents, will still be able to see the removed image or video.
Facebook states that the goal of total parent control over safety features is that parents can “teach, model, and scaffold their child’s learning of respectful interaction, kind communication, and digital citizenship…” It might help to think of Messenger Kids not just as an app, but as a tool to help you and your child learn together about safety online. This way, you won’t feel like you’re throwing them to the social media “wolves” in their teenage years.
Keep the conversation open
The safety of an app goes beyond its features. It’s also about how parents talk to their kids about online safety. Because of risks like depression and anxiety, keeping an open dialogue with your child about what they do online helps them feel comfortable coming to you with issues.
If this is the first time your child uses a messaging app, there is a lot to learn. This is an opportunity to teach them good habits, online etiquette, how to identify inappropriate behaviors, and how to report them. Start by asking open ending questions:
“I love that you’re enjoying the app! Is there anything that’s happened that you don’t love? Can you tell me about it?”
“Can you show me how to report something that might be inappropriate?”
“There are times when I’ve felt sad about something someone said or did to me. Do you know that I’m always here for you no matter what if you need help with something?”
Checking in with your child often helps both of you build smart communication habits as your child ages with technology.
Safer Online Experience With a VPN
No matter how much you talk, or how many parental controls you set, any information, photos, or videos you share online or in an app make you and your child vulnerable online.
Fortunately, you can take steps to better protect your and your child’s information online, like using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN service, such as ExpressVPN, encrypts your data and reroutes it through their server. With a VPN, if your data is hacked, it cannot be read, let alone be linked to you personally. On top of that, everything you do online, even beyond Facebook Messenger Kids, will be better protected and you’ll be able to maintain your online privacy much better.
However, even with a VPN, Facebook is still able to see your actions and store information about you as long as you’re logged into their services. The VPN will still make sure they cannot see your real IP address and location. You should also use a VPN when accessing other social platforms, especially if you let your kids use social virtual reality apps.
Facebook Messenger Kids: Safe Social Media
All in all, Facebook Messenger Kids is an opportunity to walk into the world of social media with your child. It’s a tool that teaches them how to navigate online friendships and how to notice and report inappropriate behavior. It’ll help them grow digital skills that benefit them for the rest of their lives. There is a level of risk associated with using social media or exposing your data anywhere online, but you and your child can choose to use Messenger Kids as safely as possible.
For even more information on how to keep your child safe online, take a look at our definitive guide. You can also visit our list of tips for keeping kids safe on social media, whether that’s Likee, TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube Kids.
Are you wondering whether Facebook’s Messenger Kids app is safe for your child? Check out our frequently asked questions section below.
Messenger Kids isn’t necessarily dangerous. However, being on the internet always comes with risks, from data collected about your activity to misuse of content you choose to upload. What you can do to keep your child safe on Facebook Messenger Kids is to read through privacy policies, set appropriate parent safety controls within the app, and keep an open line of communication with your child. You can read more about online safety for kids in VPNOverview’s definitive guide.
Messenger Kids is a social media app that gives parents complete control and supervision within the app. It’s safe and easy to use. Other apps that are designed with children in mind are:
- JusTalk Kids
- Stars Messenger
- Google Hangouts
Make sure you take advantage of available safety features, set limits with your child, and talk with them about their experiences with the app.
Yes, parents see all messages, images, and videos their child sends and receives. Parents can also download all of the content shared and received within Messenger Kids. One limitation is that video chats aren’t recorded or saved on the app.
Yes. If you believe an image, video, or contact is unsafe or inappropriate for your child, you can remove it from your child’s message thread and report it to Facebook at any time by following these steps:
- Go to your child’s account.
- Select the “Activity” tab.
- Click on the image.
- Click “Remove”.
The image or video will be removed from your child’s thread and your view in the Parent Dashboard. Other people in the chat, and their parents, will still be able to see the removed image or video.