Facebook's Messenger Kids app lets children start friend requests

Parents still have to approve any additions.

Facebook's Messenger Kids app has so far been strict about adding friends. Early on, it even required that children count their parents as friends. The social network is ready to loosen things up, however... if only a bit. It's giving its Android and iOS apps an optional feature that lets kids start friend requests. When you turn it on, Facebook creates a random four-word passphrase for your child -- they just have to provide that phrase to their potential Messenger Kids friend. Parents still have to approve requests, but this saves them from having to handle the entire process, and simplifies matters if they aren't friends with their young ones.

The feature is strictly opt-in and should be available starting today.

The addition shows Facebook trying to walk a fine line. It wants to expand Messenger Kids' audience so that more children switch to the regular Messenger app when they turn 13, but it also has to honor strict privacy protections for children. It won't please critics, however. Opponents like the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have pointed to research warning that overuse of digital devices may be harmful to children, and that younger kids aren't mature enough to deal with the nuances of online relationships. These objectors see very existence of Messenger Kids is a problem, and no amount of improvements are likely to satisfy them.