SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA/AP) - Child development experts and advocates are urging Facebook to pull the plug on its new messaging app aimed at kids.
In an open letter sent Tuesday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, more than 100 child experts, advocates and parenting organizations argue that younger children — the app is intended for those under 13 — aren't ready to have social media accounts, navigate the complexities of online relationships or protect their own privacy.
Facebook launched the free Messenger Kids app in December, describing it as a way for children to chat with family members and parent-approved friends.
It doesn't give a child a separate Facebook or Messenger accounts. Instead, the app works as an extension of a parent's account, and parents get controls such as the ability to decide who their kids can chat with.
The charge to remove the app is led by the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the group includes psychiatrists, pediatricians, educators and the children's music singer Raffi Cavoukian.
Counselors at the Gingerbread House Children's Advocacy Center in Shreveport also agree young children should not be on social media.
"Children a lot of times don't understand people will pretend to be someone else on the internet. They think that if they say they're 12 and they're a male on Facebook, then they're 12 and they're a male," said Gingerbread House Forensic Interviewer and Education Coordinator, Alex Person, "Children's minds are not developed to understand the difference, or understand that there could be a different reality."
Essentially allowing predators to take advantage of a child's innocence.
But, will deleting the Messenger App for Kids stop the problem? Disturbingly, no.
"Children know how to use a different birthday, they know how to alter their age on Facebook," explained Person, "What's most alarming to me, is many times they use their parents date of birth, so you have a 10 or 11-year-old getting on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram where you have to be 13, 14-years-old and they're using their parents data birth a 30, 40-year-old."
Sometimes parents even set up those accounts.
"I don't think it's wrong for parents to be doing that by any means, it's every parents choice, but parents need to be educated when they make that choice to set up an account for their kiddos."
Person says each parent should not only have access to, but know how to use all the social media apps connected to their child.
"Let them know that there are people out there that can pretend to be someone that they're not," she said, "Don't just assume oh well it's for children, get on there and know how to work apps."
Need help understanding the latest social media apps and sites? Click here.