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Why I decided to install Messenger Kids

Why I decided to install Messenger Kids
From TechCrunch - February 5, 2018

Ive been struggling with whether or not to download Facebooks new app aimed at children, Messenger Kids, onto my daughters iPad. This weekend, I took the plunge. I sat with her as she typed her first message and sent a selfie. I watched as she discovered GIFs. I wasnt sure I had done the right thing.

No one wants to surrender their kids to online social networks, but children can be exposed to even more danger by going around their parents backs.

This point was drilled home for me a few days ago, when a friend discovered her daughter downloaded the messaging app IMVU without her parents knowledge. The child was almost immediately contacted by an adult man, whose conversations indicated he was a child predator in the early stages of grooming his victim. (The police were called and are now investigating.)

The child told her parents she installed the app to talk to school friends about a game they were playing. Her friends were on the app, and she wanted to be, too.

Another friend of mine recently installed Kik on her daughters Android phones because they wanted to message their friends, and their phones didnt have cell service. She didnt know that Kik was one of the worst of them all in terms of its adoption by child abusers, according to a 2017 investigation that dubbed it the de facto app for grooming children online. (I filled her in.)

You see, the kids are already online. You cant unplug them. That ship has sailed.

There are plenty of reasons to hate the idea of Messenger Kids, though. The messaging solution with built-in parental controls has arrived at a time when theres mounting concern over how use of social media has detrimental impacts on peoples well-being, as well as concern over how technology companies have irresponsibly developed products aimed to addict their users without understanding the negative consequences of those actions.

Into this new understanding of technologys downsides and dark nature comes Messenger Kids. Thats pretty bad timing.

Child health advocates have called for Facebook to shut down Messenger Kids. They make valid points. The app has even been compared to cigarette companies advertising their products to minors.

But as a parent myself, its been difficult to for me to dismiss Messenger Kids as an entirely evil product.

Whats worse, I think, are the other messaging apps that have for years turned a blind eye to the fact that they have user bases filled with childrennot just minors under the age of 18, but actual children, under the age of 13.

A number of social apps are troublesome, too, because they have messaging components built-in. Snapchat and Musical.ly, for example, are heavily used by the under-13 crowd who have learned to lie about their ages in order to participate.

But Snapchat has beenseeing slowing user growth, so its first priority will not be making sure all its users are of age. Because Wall Street strictly judges social networks on growth metrics, theyre often scared to purge fake accounts and underage users.

Unlike Facebook, most companies dont have the luxury of making choices that could slow user growth, or time spent in-app, as Facebook just remarkably did.

I dont want to demonize parents who have allowed their kids to use social apps at young ages. None of the questions around kids use of devices and social media are easy. There isnt one set of definitive guidelines about whats right or wrong.

Ask yourself: is it okay to let the kids use Snapchat, when all they really want to do is play with the funny face filters and send those pictures to a few friends? Is letting them goof around on Musical.ly a better alternative to YouTube given the latters far more public, and sizable audience of viewers (and ongoing issuesaroundchild exploitation?) Should you turn on iMessage for the kids, so they can text grandma and grandpa?

For some parents, the answer is a hard no. They lock down kids devices to include nothing but pre-approved games.

This is problematic, too, because those same kids will be soon old enough to be handed their own smartphones. Theyll have had no time to practice online communication in a more supervised environment. And simply banning apps doesnt teach children how to critically evaluate them, either.

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