By Asina Pornwasin
Television in the region has been largely displaced by the Internet as the entertainment medium of choice among children, and chatting is one of the top five activities enjoyed by kids.
In Thailand, nearly 50 per cent of children under the age of 15 are online, while 73 per cent of Thai children have a smartphone.
Loren Cheng, product management director of Facebook, said Messenger Kids was an independent app designed with the needs of Thai parents in mind – giving them a better way to connect with their children.
“Parents across the world are allowing their children to use tablets and smartphones to surf the Internet,” Cheng said. “They are concerned about the safety of their kids when they are online, especially when they chat with others.”
Messenger Kids is designed for children aged seven to 11. Parents must approve every single contact request connecting to their child, and can also set time limits on the app via a “sleep mode” feature.
“Before bringing this app to Thailand, we spoke to parents, associations and experts around the world, including in Thailand, to listen and gather feedback,” Cheng explained. “One concern that parents in the digital age have in common is the need for a messaging app that gives parents control, while ensuring their children get privacy and have fun.”
He said Messenger Kids incorporates expert advice in the areas of child development, online safety and children-related media and technology. It is built with a strong focus on privacy, safety, responsible online communication, parental control, along with education features that encourage positive social skills.
“We are also engaging safety experts in Thailand to learn more, and globally we have spoken with hundreds of parents and families for their feedback,” Cheng added.
The app has no ads and no in-app purchases – and is free to download. It is available in Thai language for both iOS and Android.
“It is not social media, but a communication app that [allows kids] to have fun and also be safe. All friends on this chat app will have to be approved by parents. The app’s user interface is designed to fit children, such as the augmented reality-featured conversation message, sticker and video chat,” Cheng said.
Parents can control the contact list and approve every contact request through a “Messenger Kids Parent Controls” feature on the parents’ Facebook account.
“We need to balance parents’ concerns and their ability to ensure their kids’ safety but [also the need for the kids] to have their privacy while using this app,” Cheng said.
To achieve that balance, the parents and their children have to take a pledge to be kind, respectful, stay safe and have fun while setting up the account.
Facebook also launched facebook.com/safety/parents as a Thai-language portal for parents and youth in Thailand.
Messenger Kids was first launched last December in the United States, and is also available in Canada, Mexico and Peru.
Cheng said the company has not set a number on downloads, users and usage expected, but is instead focusing on helping children be safe online when they communicate with others.
“We still listen to feedback to make sure the app is really useful,” Cheng said.
In addition to Messenger Kids, Facebook offers other tools for safety, such as blocking and reporting for bullying, suicide prevention, sharing, profile and post visibility, profile privacy, and location sharing option, he said.