Local experts and parents react to Facebook's Messenger Kids

BRIDGEPORT, W. Va. (WDTV) -- Billions of people have an account on Facebook worldwide. Now kids can take part in the action.

"I think it's excellent if used in the right way," said Mary Shields, a guidance counselor at Bridgeport Middle School.

Facebook launched Messenger Kids back in December and so far, it has more than 80,000 downloads.

"It also has a lot of disadvantages. As far as benefits go, our students get to connect not with just the kids during the day verbally, but when they go home and in the afternoon," said Shields.

The app is for children 13 and younger, as Facebook policy only allows those who are older to sign up for the main site.

Parents can fully control the contact list as it's connected to their own account. Kids don't get their own profiles and parents can see who are they chatting with and who are they making video calls to.

However, experts say it has to be done in moderation.

"I'm a firm believer in setting boundaries and letting them know there are limits," said Shields. "I know the kids have been told about the dangers but sometimes it never hurts for the parents to reiterate."

The company says they put safeguards on cyberbullying yet some parents question if younger kids should be able to use it.

"I don't know if six-year-olds really would need something like that. Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, I can see where that could be useful especially with parent control," said Stephanie Cochran, a parent.

Health experts and organizations in the country have reached out to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, saying the app can damage a child's development.

Local experts say it's okay if used right and kids continue to socialize more face to face.

"I hate the thoughts of little communication, spoken word is getting less used," said Shields.

The app was launched exactly on Dec. 4 and it's been in the top 40 most popular kids' apps. Facebook says it won't show ads or collect data for marketing purposes and it won't move a young user's account to a regular messenger profile when the child gets old enough.