I’m one of “those” parents. We have three kiddos, ranging in age from 3 to 14. And y’all, when I say we’re a family that limits screen time, I mean we reeeaalllly limit screen time. Our 14-year-old still has a flip phone, if that gives you some perspective. I actually look at that little black flip phone with a sweet sense of nostalgia.
I grew up in that micro-generation that has more recently been referred to as “Xennial”. My childhood was completely unfettered by technology; I have clear memories of playing a computer game at my dad’s office on a black-and-green computer. The game was about a lemonade stand, and I have no idea what the purpose was, but I thought it was AWESOME.
Of course, AOL and dial-up internet came out when I was in middle school, but was still something of a rare unicorn until I was in my first year of high school. Who just had the AOL noise pop into their head? My dad had the Zack Morris car phone when I was in high school, but I didn’t get a flip cell phone until I had started college. My point before I get too far down memory lane: I know the peace that comes with a childhood full of imagination, playing outside, and not having your every move recorded on the internet for all to see.
Yet, I’m also not naive. I know this is the way the world is moving, and I know there’s no stopping it. My job as a parent is not to teach my children to avoid technology (though maybe I try just a smidge), but to teach them to use it safely and in a balanced way. These little ones are only living under my roof for a short time, and it’s my responsibility to teach them these things while they are here, with a safety net.
We’re also a family that lives far from our families. Some years we have a grandparent visiting for the holidays, and others not. Since we first heard about it, Messenger Kids has been a great way for our kids to stay connected with our loved ones far away! Grandma and Grandpa are dying to see what we bought with that Christmas money they sent, and my kids love to giggle with cousins over the long holiday break.
Created by Facebook, Messenger Kids is an app that allows kids to have fun connecting with friends and family, but with more control for parents. Parents control their child’s contact list from their own Facebook account, and they aren’t able to delete or hide any of their messaging threads. Another thing I love is that parents can set a sleep mode, so their kids have boundaries on when and how they’re using the app. There’s no advertising within the app, and no in-app purchase offerings.
Kiddos seem to love it, too! There’s all kinds of filters, stickers, drawing tools, and gifs (all child-appropriate) that they can use to express themselves and add some creativity to their chats with friends. Right now, there’s tons of cute holiday-specific art! My boys think it’s hilarious to be an abominable snowman. If you’re a Santa family, you can even opt-in for your child to receive messages from “Santa,” which are actually messages sent from you, as the parent.
Messenger Kids has been a great tool to discuss internet boundaries and safety with my kids. Prior to beginning to use Messenger Kids, parents and their children must agree to the “Messenger Kids Pledge”. Similar to a user agreement, the Messenger Kids Pledge states, “Be kind. Be respectful. Be safe. Have fun.” We can talk about what it means to be kind and respectful on the internet, as well as what it means to be safe. These are different conversations with my 14-year-old than they are with my 8-year-old, and it’s so helpful to have apps that support parents in this way!
To Get Started:
Messenger Kids is FREE and can be downloaded from any App Store: Apple, Android, and Amazon Fire Tablet. This app is super helpful across devices, when you or your kids can’t use something like iMessage. My husband is as devoted to his Android as I am to my iPhone, so that’s a no-go for us!
- Download the Messenger Kids app to your phone or tablet.
- Authenticate the device using your Facebook login. This DOES NOT create a Facebook account for your child.
- Create an account for your child, by adding their name. Messenger Kids does not require any additional information about them.
- Parental controls are accessible in the Parent Dashboard in your main Facebook app.
- Through the Parent Dashboard, you can monitor who your kids chat and text with by adding and approving contacts and setting on and off times through our Sleep Mode feature.