Facebook Messenger Kids App gets deserved pushback, but what about the parents?

Two months ago I wrote an article outlining the dangers of Facebook’s new app aimed at kids, “The new Facebook messaging app for kids is another step back for families and society“.

My article just points out what should be obvious, not needing in-depth studies from watchdog or advocacy groups. But we are living in an age where most parents have been using social media for almost a decade and are completely desensitized to its negative effects, so now it takes appeals to authority and “experts” to raise awareness of these issues.

TechCrunch published an article this morning, “Child health advocates call for Facebook to shutter Messenger Kids app“, and it makes the recent observation:

Spearheading a campaign against Facebook Messenger Kids, Boston-based not-for-profit the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has gathered together a coalition of around 100 child health advocates and groups to sign its open letter. It’s also running a public petition — under the slogan ‘no Facebook for five year olds’.

In the letter the group describes it as “particularly irresponsible” of Facebook to have launched an app targeting preschoolers at a time when they say there is “mounting concern about how social media use affects adolescents’ wellbeing”.

Well, I’m afraid it’s a little too late for letters and petitions. When the behaviour of the parents and adults raising the children has already been compromised, the kids are beyond saving.

Like drinking, smoking and other vices, as I have pointed out in my previous article, the forbidden fruit is what matters. Kids won’t wait until they’re of legal age to get a taste of adult lifestyle choices. Underage drinking, smoking in high school — these are considered “cool” and rebellious.  Facebook has accomplished its mission with its underhanded persuasion to get kids on social media, and frankly these advocacy groups are just making the forbidden fruit that much sweeter for kids.

What should be addressed is the parents’ and adults’ usage of Facebook and social media.  This is the root problem.  In fact, the sheer reliance on social media platforms to communicate, despite all of its known psychological side effects and exploits, is entirely an adult choice. Just like a drinking or gambling problem, its effects carry over to the family and will negatively impact a child’s development.

Parents are simply not setting a good example, and the majority do not realize they are setting a bad example.

This quote within the TechCrunch article I think is very telling, and it comes from a Facebook representative rebutting the claims from the child health groups:

Messenger Kids is a messaging app that helps parents and children to chat in a safer way, with parents always in control of their child’s contacts and interactions. Since we launched in December we’ve heard from parents around the country that Messenger Kids has helped them stay in touch with their children and has enabled their children to stay in touch with family members near and far. For example, we’ve heard stories of parents working night shifts being able read bedtime stories to their children, and mums who travel for work getting daily updates from their kids while they’re away. 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 the PTA. We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids be the best experience it can be for families. We have been very clear that there is no advertising in Messenger Kids.

When did we arrive at a point where parents are so distant from their children that they have to rely on a social media app to stay in touch? Facebook and social media have enabled the current environment of distant communication — removing the personal and inserting the impersonal. It results in the feelings of abandonment and isolation that all social media users experience to a degree.

Facebook has been providing a crutch and an excuse for parents to negotiate away some of the most important time in developing relationships, not only with their children, but with other adults, for generally more self-serving reasons. Not much says “I don’t care” more than being unwilling to make a small sacrifice to spend time together with someone, forgoing that instead for more time at work, to travel, or to dodge parental responsibility.

Worse, this behaviour is now considered normal. That is what is worrisome. The default personality of an addicted social media user is narcissistic, selfish and generally avoidant. The transition from voice calls to text messaging was a small step in a bad direction, but the normalization of social media was the much larger step that has walked healthy, naturally developed societies right off the cliff, replacing it with unnatural, isolating upbringings of every subsequent generation.

The anti-social feedback loop is in overdrive. Social media is abetting the growing polarization and mob mentality that is tearing apart civility and personal discourse. With every passing day, the loop is encouraging more selfish behaviour, like career focus over family, or prioritizing social media to increase perceived self-worth over cultivating meaningful one-on-one relationships.  These are the examples set by adults that kids are following today.

While the Facebook messenger app for kids is an obvious peril addressed by the child health groups, it’s Facebook for adults that should be the real focus.

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