The boom of smartphone and social media apps have been affecting people of all ages. The side effects of excessive screen time have been brutal. It increased suicidal tendency and depression among youth and raised anxiety levels among adults. The social media platforms and smartphone manufacturers have been criticized for getting people addicted to them. The era of instant gratification has arrived, and every other person has been trying live for instant dopamine boost from likes, comments, and shares. In the wake of social media boom, Facebook launched Messenger Kids. The messenger app for kids aged under 13. Parents have full control over whom they can chat with. But is it ensured that kids will not get addicted to this or affect their health in any way? No one can ensure that. Moreover, it is no secret that teenagers have been hooked to apps such as Twitter, Snapchat, and Kik. So, it might be a business strategy of Facebook to target kids and keep them hooked to its platform.
Research studies have shown that social media is influential in altering moods and likelihood of voting by changing users’ news feeds. The exposure to social media in early age can affect development of kids. Following the U.S. federal law, social media companies restricted kids under 13 to sign up on their platforms. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule restricts these platforms from collecting, using, and sharing online data from kids. This rule also offers parental control over data collection. However, this law proved ineffectual. In a poll conducted by Facebook during development of Messenger Kids, three out of five parents informed that their under-13-year-old kids used messenger, social media, or both.
Though Messenger Kids gives control to parents, it has some features that can result in arousing anxiety in the way they arouse in adults. The app allows kids to know if someone is online, how long it is since the users were active, and if user has seen their messages or not. These features create anxiety even among adults, and kids will be no exception.
Researchers from Florida State University and San Diego State University found that teens are more likely to be depressed if they spend so much time on smartphones. The research also found that rise in suicidal tendencies and rate of depression is linked to rapid growth in smartphone use. Encouraging kids to move their friendships online would affect their tendency to be empathetic, ability to read human emotions, and engage with the physical world.
Larry Rosen, a psychology professor and author of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, said the children of under-13 age group are in a phase to learn communication skills, verbal & nonverbal cues, and body language. “I worry we’re introducing something to kids who really don’t need it,” he said, “and I think that the ostensible purpose is wrong, which is to get them started young.”
There is a difference of opinion among parents about effects of Messenger Kids. Some of them consider it harmful for development of their kids, while some of them consider it a good option to connect with people and teach them how to use social media responsibly. They think kids need to determine how to use technology responsibly and effectively. Moreover, parents can help them figure it out. Allowing kids to use apps designed specifically for them is like an experiment. It is unclear how growing up with social media platforms will affect kids in adulthood, but parents need to ensure their children use these platforms efficiently and responsibly.