Messenger Kids, Facebook’s parent-controlled messaging app that lets kids text, call, video chat, and use face filters, has now arrived in Mexico. The launch follows Messenger Kids’ recent expansion outside the U.S., where in June it first became available to users in Canada and Peru. The app in Mexico works the same as it does elsewhere – parents have to approve all the contacts the child is allowed to talk to – whether that’s family members the child knows, like grandma and grandpa, or the child’s friends.
Facebook has consulted with paid advisor Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and others on the development of Messenger Kids’ features focused on principles of social and emotional learning. For example, it recently introduced a section of guidelines that remind kids to “be kind” and “be respectful” and rolled out “kindness stickers” which are meant to encourage more positive emotions when communicating online.
These approaches are meant to help kids learn, from the beginning, better ways of communicating when online. However, it’s still advisable for parents to sit with kids as they practice texting for the first time, in order to talk about what’s appropriate behavior. As kids gets older, parents should continue to spot check their conversations and have discussions about what the child may have done right or wrong.
For example, we use Messenger Kids in our home, and I recently had a conversation about when it’s too early or too late to be placing a video call, after reviewing the chat history. I then adjusted the app’s “bedtime hours” to limit calls to certain daytime hours. This isn’t something you can do with other social apps.
While the app continues to be controversial because of its maker – Facebook is using it to get kids hooked on its products at a young age – there aren’t any real alternatives for parents who want texting apps for kids with parental controls and friend approvals built in. And even if a startup came up with a similar service, it would be hard to compete with Facebook’s scale.
Today, Messenger Kids has over half a million users across iOS and Android, and is continuing to grow with these international expansions.