Facebook is rolling out a new version of Messenger aimed at kids. Normally kids under the age of 13 are not allowed to sign up for a Facebook account, this is managed by the really hard to fool, birthday picker.
Is this a good idea, to give access to a powerful messaging app with their own logins and passwords? Now parents will have to approve everyone that their child wants to communicate with, but this does open a couple other questions about safety and security.
According to Facebook, there is a high demand for kids who now are allowed by their parents to use tablets and smartphones to have access to Facebook Messenger. I have to wonder, do our children, who are growing up steeped in non-traditional communication methods really need another avenue to avoid actual human interaction. Nevermind the obvious safety and privacy concerns.
I feel that Facebook is rolling this out as a way to hook-em when they’re young. The under 25 demo is leaving Facebook in droves for other platforms like Twitter and SnapChat. Most kids don’t want to post their updates to a site that is shared with their grandparents. Facebook isn’t as cool and unique as it used to be.
If Facebook can succeed in getting kids as young as 6 using their services, they will be the first social media platform these kids interact with, hopefully creating a user for life. It’s the same strategy that Apple used in the 90’s by flooding the educational market with their computers. Thinking that if kids got used to using their devices at a young age, they would continue using them as adults.
You can argue the success/failure of that approach for Apple. Will this gamble work for Facebook, maybe, as long as they avoid any negative news that would be associated with this experiment going wrong. Any news showing a child be exploited or there being anything untoward happening in their service will kill it before it has a chance.
So why would we need to give 6-year-olds an Instant Messaging service? Why can’t they just us messenger on their parent’s device to have directly supervised conversations with grandparents, cousins, friends etc? Are they so totally connected that they need to be reached all the time? There is already so much research showing that the always-on connected life we lead now as adults is harmful, what will it do to our kids?
Kids need to have space to just be kids. They also need to learn skills like talking on the phone, speaking to someone face to face, or even writing an email/letter.
The tendency of social media drives us to only present our more edited selves. There is no space to be vulnerable or take a risk. That’s why texting has become the most popular way to communicate with a cellphone than actually calling someone. If you are speaking with someone you cannot take the time to craft the perfect responses or make sure you only come across a certain way.
This leads to a shallower level of communication. Starting our kids at 6 or 7 years old to start operating in this form is bad for their still-developing brains. Think I am crazy? Try having a conversation with a 15-year-old and get them to look you in the eye.
So is there room for a messenger app for 6-13 year olds? Maybe, I can’t think of one. My kids (7 and 4) don’t even have their own “smart” devices let alone a Facebook account. When my wife and I think they are ready we will have that discussion with them. Until then, if they want to contact the grandparents, they can do with our supervision.
What do you think? When is the right time to get your kid signed up for a Social Media/Messenger/Smart Device? Let me know in the comments.