Facebook should ‘pull the plug’ on Messenger Kids for kids’ health, some psychiatrists and pediatricians say

A coalition of more than a dozen groups, which include psychiatrists and pediatricians, called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to shut down Facebook’s Messenger Kids app as it “will undermine children’s healthy development.”

“Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood letter states. “They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users. They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what’s appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures and videos.”

The letter cited several concerns they associated with children using social media, including moderating how much time is spent on it, interference with developing face-to-face interactions, greater likelihood of the child using social media being depressed, not getting a good night’s sleep and/or having concerns with his or her body image, many of which referenced publications in medical journals.

“In response to some [recent Facebook] scandals, you have personally vowed to ‘do better,’” the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood letter continued. “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. We ask that you do not use Facebook’s enormous reach and influence to make it even harder. Please make a strong statement that Facebook is committed to the well-being of children and society by pulling the plug on Messenger Kids.”

AAP insight

Although several members of the AAP signed the letter, David L. Hill, MD, FAAP, chair of its Council on Communications and Media, told Healio Family Medicine that there were administrative reasons for the group not signing off on it collectively.

“A signature like this requires action on part of the board, and I’m not aware that this made it to the level of the board,” Hill said.

A Messenger Kids spokesperson told Healio Family Medicine that the concerns from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood letter are “not aligned with the recommendations” of the AAP regarding screen time.

“Guidelines are always backward-looking due to the nature of the scientific data upon which they are based,” Hill said in response.

“Facebook is creating something new. It may be a bit disingenuous to say the guidelines do not apply directly to this product. [AAP] guidelines certainly recommend that children’s digital time be carefully considered in light of their other health and developmental needs. Our guidelines include some background regarding the relationship between excessive media use and mental health issues in children and teens. While their statement is technically true, that is a separate argument than the one that is made by the signatories on this letter,” he said.

An AAFP spokesperson tells Healio Family Medicine it was neither invited to review nor sign the letter.

Facebook response

The Messenger Kids spokesperson said the app is free of advertising, is intended to assist parents and children “chat in a safer way,” and that parents maintain control of who the child messages and with whom their child contacts.

“We worked to create Messenger Kids with an advisory committee of parenting and developmental experts, as well as with families themselves and in partnership with National PTA. We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids be the best experience it can be for families,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said Facebook has no intentions of shutting down the app. – by Janel Miller

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include additional comments from AAP.

Disclosure: Healio Family Medicine could not confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication

A coalition of more than a dozen groups, which include psychiatrists and pediatricians, called for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to shut down Facebook’s Messenger Kids app as it “will undermine children’s healthy development.”

“Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts,” the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood letter states. “They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users. They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what’s appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures and videos.”

The letter cited several concerns they associated with children using social media, including moderating how much time is spent on it, interference with developing face-to-face interactions, greater likelihood of the child using social media being depressed, not getting a good night’s sleep and/or having concerns with his or her body image, many of which referenced publications in medical journals.

“In response to some [recent Facebook] scandals, you have personally vowed to ‘do better,’” the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood letter continued. “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. We ask that you do not use Facebook’s enormous reach and influence to make it even harder. Please make a strong statement that Facebook is committed to the well-being of children and society by pulling the plug on Messenger Kids.”

AAP insight

Although several members of the AAP signed the letter, David L. Hill, MD, FAAP, chair of its Council on Communications and Media, told Healio Family Medicine that there were administrative reasons for the group not signing off on it collectively.

“A signature like this requires action on part of the board, and I’m not aware that this made it to the level of the board,” Hill said.

A Messenger Kids spokesperson told Healio Family Medicine that the concerns from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood letter are “not aligned with the recommendations” of the AAP regarding screen time.

“Guidelines are always backward-looking due to the nature of the scientific data upon which they are based,” Hill said in response.

“Facebook is creating something new. It may be a bit disingenuous to say the guidelines do not apply directly to this product. [AAP] guidelines certainly recommend that children’s digital time be carefully considered in light of their other health and developmental needs. Our guidelines include some background regarding the relationship between excessive media use and mental health issues in children and teens. While their statement is technically true, that is a separate argument than the one that is made by the signatories on this letter,” he said.

An AAFP spokesperson tells Healio Family Medicine it was neither invited to review nor sign the letter.

Facebook response

The Messenger Kids spokesperson said the app is free of advertising, is intended to assist parents and children “chat in a safer way,” and that parents maintain control of who the child messages and with whom their child contacts.

“We worked to create Messenger Kids with an advisory committee of parenting and developmental experts, as well as with families themselves and in partnership with National PTA. We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids be the best experience it can be for families,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said Facebook has no intentions of shutting down the app. – by Janel Miller

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include additional comments from AAP.

Disclosure: Healio Family Medicine could not confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication