WhatsApp raises the minimum age for use to 16 years old

Are there alternative children's messengers that are safe and have a wide reach?

Messenger service WhatsApp is raising the age limit for using the messenger from 13 to 16. This is a reaction to the European General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force on May 25, 2018 and which regulates that parents must consent to the processing of sensitive data of their children under 16. Facebook has also already responded to this, as klicksafe reported on April 24, 2018 in the article "Facebook asks for consent to privacy policies", and plans to use a tool that will allow parental consent for their children to use the service.

However, the question for parents and educators is whether simply raising the age rating for Messenger WhatsApp is an effective measure to protect children from unwanted and harmful content and contacts. It would make sense to have an additional age verification system that would actually prevent children under 16 from using the service. However, there are no concrete details on this yet. In addition, many parents are wondering about safe alternatives for under-16s.

Since communication via messenger continues to be very attractive for children and young people (around 50% of 6- to 13-year-olds own a cell phone/smartphone according to the2016 KIM study and 97% of 12- to 19-year-olds own a smartphone according to the 2017 JIM study), jugendschutz.net, the Competence Center for the Protection of Minors on the Internet, tested messenger services for children(topic paper "Children's messengers: mostly safe, but unattractive")

Children's messenger tested
jugendschutz.net tested the following four services: Maily, Tocomail, Monster Messenger and VTech Kid Connect. These are generally rated good in terms of parental involvement. The issue paper states: " They (the messengers) all work with the same strategy: parents and guardians are strongly involved and given options to control messages and contacts. For example, creating accounts is a parent's responsibility on all four of the children's messengers reviewed. So is approving new contacts and managing them. Children can only communicate with each other if the parents of both chat partners have given their consent. In the case of Maily and V-Tech Kid Connect, parents are also given access to all conversations conducted by the child. Tocomail goes one step further: Here, parents must either approve or delete every single message from their child". 

The messengers are therefore suitable for practicing communication via messenger in the family, but they are not (yet) a real alternative to WhatsApp due to their limited range. When using these services, parents should also consider up to what point they should accompany and monitor their children in online communication. In perspective, they should be able to communicate independently and responsibly online from adolescence onwards and know the most important rules of conduct and safety, so that monitoring of communication should no longer be necessary.

In addition to access restrictions for unsuitable services and alternative services for children and for young people, media education by parents and educators remains an important component. klicksafe therefore compiles further information on the topics of WhatsApp and alternatives to WhatsApp. In addition, guides and information materials on popular messenger services can be downloaded and ordered. 


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