Tell Facebook: Scrap the Messenger App for Kids!
Think your kids spend too much time on social media? You’re not alone. Many of with kids know how quickly devices and social media can consume their attention and energy. Scary right?
So why is Facebook trying to lure young and younger kids onto its platform, with its new Messenger Kids app, Facebook's first app specifically designed for kids under 13?
As parents, we know that’s too young. Indeed there are helpful learning tools and websites our kids can use. But spending additional time, at a younger age, on a messaging tool? Eek. That just goes too far.
Let’s be clear: young kids aren’t ready to navigate online relationships. How many times have you as an adult seen or experienced something odd online? More than once, right? Kids don’t have the maturity level to manage online interactions, and/or understand what’s private or appropriate.
And the experts agree! MomsRising has joined 118 child development experts and advocates, including the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, in signing a letter to Facebook asking them to scrap the app. 
Indeed research shows that social media use by teens is linked to significantly higher rates of depression, and adolescents who spend an hour a day chatting on social networks report less satisfaction with nearly every aspect of their lives.[2,3] Eighth graders who use social media for 6-9 hours per week are 47% more likely to report they are unhappy than their peers who use social media less often. And a study of girls between the ages of 10 and 12 found the more they used social networking sites like Facebook, the more likely they were to idealize thinness, have concerns about their bodies, and to have dieted. Teen social media use is also linked to unhealthy sleep habits.
Those are the impacts on older kids. Just imagine what social media would do to even younger children.
It’s not a question of parents saying no. Almost half of parents say that regulating their child’s screen time is a constant battle. Already, adolescents report difficulty moderating their own social media use: 78% check their phones at least hourly, and 50% say they feel addicted to their phones. Messenger Kids will exacerbate this problem, as the anticipation of friends’ responses will be a powerful incentive for children to check – and stay on – a phone or tablet. [7,8] Encouraging kids to move their friendships online will interfere with and displace the face-to-face interactions and play that are crucial for building healthy developmental skills, including the ability to read human emotion, delay gratification, and engage with the physical world.
Facebook claims that Messenger Kids will provide a safe alternative for the children who have lied their way onto social media platforms designed for teens and adults. But the 11- and 12- year-olds who currently use Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook are unlikely to switch to an app that is clearly designed for younger children. Messenger Kids is not responding to a need – it is creating one. It appeals primarily to children who otherwise would not have their own social media accounts. It is disingenuous to use Facebook’s failure to keep underage users off their platforms as a rationale for targeting younger children with a new product.
Now more than ever, we’re all aware of the dangers of online spaces. While Messenger Kids will not have advertising, Facebook has stated it will not use the wealth of data it collects from the new app for marketing purposes, and the site has taken steps to limit common social media problems such as cyberbullying on Messenger Kids, the app’s overall impact on families and society is likely to be negative normalizing social media use among young children and creating peer pressure for kids to sign up for their first account.
In the past year, Facebook has come under increased scrutiny for helping to spread false information  preparing research for an advertising client on how to target teens when they are emotionally vulnerable, and allowing advertisers to discriminate based on age and ethnicity and target messages to racists and anti-Semites.[10,11,12,13] In response to some of these scandals, Facebook personally vowed to “do better.”
Doing better is leaving younger children alone and allowing them to develop without the pressures that come with social media use. Raising children in our new digital age is difficult enough. Facebook should not use it’s enormous reach and influence to make it even harder.
2 Twenge, J. (2017, September). Have Smartphones destroyed a generation? The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/
3 McDool, E., Powell, P., Roberts, J., Taylor, K. (2016). Social media use and children’s wellbeing. IZA Discussion Paper No. 10412, Bonn, Germany: Institute for the Study of Labor.
5 Tiggemann, M. & Slater, A. (2014). The Internet and body image concerns in preteenage girls. NetTweens: The Internet and body image concerns in preteenage girls. Journal of Early Adolescence, 34 (5), 606-620
7 Common Sense Media. (2016). Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy, and Finding Balance. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/research/technology-addiction-concern-controversy-and-finding-balance.
8 American Psychological Association (2017). APA’s Survey Finds Constantly Checking Electronic Devices Linked to Significant Stress for Most Americans. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/02/checking-devices.aspx.
9 Buchanan, M. (2018). Why fake news spreads like wildfire on Facebook. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-perspec-fake-news-google-facebook-0904- story.html.
10 Angwin, J., Tobin, A. and Scheiber, N. (2017). Dozens of Companies Are Using Facebook to Exclude Older Workers From Job Ads. ProPublica. Retrieved from https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-ads-age-discrimination-targeting.
11 Angwin, J., Tobin, A. and Scheiber, N. (2017). Dozens of Companies Are Using Facebook to Exclude Older Workers From Job Ads. ProPublica. https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-ads-age-discrimination-targeting.
12 Angwin, J., Varner, M. and Tobin, A. (2017). Facebook (Still) Letting Housing Advertisers Exclude Users by Race. ProPublica. Retrieved from https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-advertising-discrimination-housing-race-sex-national-origin.
13 Maheshwari, S. and Issac, M. (2017). Facebook, After ‘Fail’ Over Ads Targeting Racists, Makes Changes. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/20/business/media/facebook-racist-ads.html.
14 Abramson, A. (2017). Mark Zuckerberg Apologizes for Facebook's Divisiveness. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2017/10/01/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-yom-kippur/.