Facebook has created a version of its Messenger app for children as young as six, in a move likely to raise concerns about primary school pupils accessing the social media service at an early stage in their lives.
Messenger kids allows children to talk, send photos, videos and text messages to friends who are approved by their parents and adult relatives.
The social network said it recognised a “need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love” but "but also has the level of control parents want".
Facebook requires users to be 13 or older to have a profile on its social network and the app is the first targeted at children under that age. It only allows children to use its messaging services, not the entire website.
Once it is installed on a young person’s tablet or smartphone it can be controlled using an adult Facebook account, who must pre-approve who they can talk to.
Once an account has been set up by a parent, children can start a one-on-one or group video chat with parent-approved contacts through a home screen.
Loren Cheng, product management director, said Facebook staff had already been testing the app with their families at home. She said the tech giant conducted research with “thousands” of parents and spoke to child development and online safety experts. Facebook did not specify how children and parents could prove their relation to each other.
Messenger Kids is launching in the US from Monday, but a UK launch date has not been confirmed.
"Probably like most parents, I recoiled I horror at this announcement but on reading more, I’m sold," said Anne-Marie O'Leary, editor in chief at Netmums.
"In a world where far-flung families are better connected than ever before - when Grandma in Tokyo can read a bedtime story to her grandkids in London via Facetime – a messaging app specifically designed for children can only be a good thing."
The move appears to be a solution to an ongoing issue where young people lie about their age to access the website.
"Facebook has had an under 13 problem for many, many years," said Stephen Balkam, founder of the Family Online Safety Institute.
"You have a situation where kids are lying to get onto Facebook, and their parents are getting kids to lie to get on Facebook so they can tag them in photos."
Balkam said that it was a "great idea" which is "much safer and much more suitable" but that it didn't tackle the question over how much screen time young people should be getting each day.