Madison psychologists warn new Facebook messaging app will attract kids ages 4 to 11

Madison psychologists warn new Facebook messaging app will attract kids ages 4 to 11

More than 100 public health advocates are calling on Facebook to pull the plug on its new messenger app for kids in an open letter to the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg.

Doctors, psychologists, and counselors call the app an “irresponsible” attempt to get kids on social media, arguing children under the age of 13 are not ready to have their own accounts.

Kids has to be set up through a parent’s Facebook account because children under 13 aren’t allowed to have an account of their own, per Facebook guidelines.

The app was developed with help from child development experts and has no buttons for sharing, commenting, or liking posts.

A Facebook spokesperson says its main focus is making the app safe and family friendly. Child psychologists however, cite studies linking social media to increases in depression, suicide rates, and body image issues.

“The more time you spend on social media, the more likely you are to be lonely and depressed,” psychologist Maureen Rickman said. “Psychological science is careful, and we’re still looking to say, well is it a chicken and an egg problem that it’s the lonely and depressed people that are looking at it, but I’m quite confident that it’s the chicken lays the egg. That this incomplete communication is actually fostering that.”

While Messenger Kids can be used by middle schoolers, psychologists fear it will be widely used by children between the ages of 4 to 11, who are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of social media.

“I don’t think 5- and 6- and 7-year-olds should have access to social media besides the way you responsibly give them access to grandma and grandpa,” Dr. Rickman said. “You might call them on Skype or post on their site with mom and dad.”

Rickman argues kids don’t fully understand online communication is not real, and parent supervision is necessary.

The petition against the new app was signed by a range of child welfare groups, including the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Parents Across America.

A study by Northwestern University showed nearly 80 percent of children between 10 and 13 check their phones hourly and half say they’re addicted to their devices. Fifty percent of parents call regulating screen time a constant battle.