Messenger is a free social media messaging app and is part of the wider Meta group. Messenger enables Facebook members to chat and video call each other and has over 1.3 billion monthly users worldwide. The platform gives users the chance to create group or individual messages and calls, where they can communicate via text or voice and can also share files and posts with each other. There are a range of fun effects available on the app such as the use of stickers and GIFs, and further playful features within the video call feature. Messenger has a range of privacy settings available and a designated ‘Parents portal’ for parents to explore.

Messenger now sits alongside Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook under the parent company Meta.  Meta replaces Facebook as the leading company/brand in this group, and the Meta branding is likely to become increasingly visible on all of these apps.  

The minimum age for Messenger users is 13, however, it does not have any rigorous age verification methods.  

Messenger accounts are linked to Facebook accounts and the account settings applied in Facebook take effect within Messenger. For account holders under 16, the default settings are ‘Private’. All other Facebook accounts default to a public setting, where content can be viewed by any other users on the platform. Setting a Facebook account to ‘Private’ is recommended. 

Find out more about age ratings in our ‘A parent and carer’s guide to age ratings of apps and games

There are many fun ways to connect with others via the Messenger app. The use of avatars, stickers and GIFs within written messages is engaging for younger users, whilst the use of playful video effects during video calls allows users to have fun when speaking with others. The introduction of ‘Group effects’ to group video calls is an additional fun element. This feature allows users to apply whole group effects that changes the appearance of all participants at the same time. The fact that Messenger syncs with your Facebook account makes it easy for young people to use and connect with their friends.

  • This is the name given to your list of messages and conversations within the app.

  • Users can create a group including other Facebook users.

  • When members post a message, other members of the group chat can react to that message using an emoji to demonstrate their reaction.

  • Messenger users are able to create ‘rooms’ where multiple people can meet to video chat. Users are not required to have a Facebook account to join open rooms. Users can create rooms from Messenger, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.

  • This is where a group chat can all video chat live and use filters and fun backgrounds.

  • Users can use features such as GIFs and stickers to communicate. You can create your own stickers by taking pictures of yourself and decorating them.

  • This allows users to preview the message to determine whether they would like to accept and reply to the message or ignore it. 

  • As well as sending text and emojis, users can also send GIFs to their contacts. A GIF is an animated image without sound.

  • Messenger users can set up ‘Secret conversations’ which means their messages are end-to-end encrypted and cannot be accessed by anyone else.

  • This refers to preventing any third party from viewing or reading a message. Only the sender and receiver of the message can access its content.  End-to-end encryption means that the message is encrypted before it leaves the senders device and can only be decrypted once it reaches its destination.  This means that data on a server cannot be accessed by hackers because the data is encrypted. 

  • Within ‘Secret conversations’, users can set a time limit, after which the message will be deleted and cannot be traced within the chat.

  • Users can post photos or videos that last 24 hours for their friends to see. 

  • Users can use camera filters to edit their video chats. Features include mood lighting, themes and 360-degree backgrounds.

  • These are new augmented reality experiences that can change the appearance of everyone in the video call at the same time. There are 70 group effects to choose from, such as giving all participants funny features.

  • This allows others to see when you are active, so they know when it’s a good time to call or message. Users can choose to turn this feature off.

  • Meta is gradually upgrading chats within Messenger to provide end-to-end encryption. This means that the message is encrypted before it leaves the senders device and can only be decrypted once it reaches its destination.  This means that data on a server cannot be accessed by hackers.  Users will be notified within individual chat threads when they have been upgraded.

Like other messaging apps - many personal stories, messages and pictures are shared by users on Messenger that are not moderated. The best way to help limit the content your child is exposed to is to ensure they are only connecting with people they know, rather than strangers. Ensure the privacy settings have been set to ‘Facebook friends’ rather than everyone. It is also possible your child may stumble across inappropriate content in the form of bad language or mature content in their messages. By restricting who your child can access on the platform, your child is less likely to experience language or behaviour that is not suitable for their age. However, it should be acknowledged that your child may still be exposed to inappropriate content by their known contacts.

As Messenger is linked to a user’s Facebook account, it is important for your child to be aware of their Facebook privacy settings to help limit contact within Messenger. If anyone your child is not friends with on Facebook attempts to message them, the message request feature allows your child to view the message and decide whether they want to accept it.  If the content is not appropriate it can be blocked or reported straight away. However, if the user is already a Facebook friend, then those messages are received directly.

With Messenger putting more emphasis on video calls rather than just written chats, it is important that your child has enabled the relevant privacy settings to avoid strangers being able to call them. Full information on privacy and video call settings can be found in the ‘Managing privacy’ section of this app guide.  

As with other social networks, it is possible for users to set up fake accounts, pretending to be someone else. Encourage your child to question whether they really know the person who has sent a message before accepting. Speak to your child about the risks of connecting with strangers and explain the importance of not sharing personal or private information within chats.

If your child has their own Messenger account, it is important for you and them to be aware of what they share within messages and calls, and the impact this will have on their digital footprint. The introduction of ‘Disappearing messages’ and ‘Secret conversations’ within Messenger has meant that some users assume they cannot be held accountable for what they share or have it traced back to them. However, young people need to be aware that any content they post leaves a digital footprint. Remind your child that anyone can take a screen shot of a message before it disappears. Have a conversation with them to help them understand what is and is not appropriate for them to share and discuss the various ways they can protect themselves. Ensure your child knows it can be difficult to keep ownership of any content once it has been shared online, as it can easily be copied and reposted without their knowledge and can then become difficult to remove from the internet.

As with many other messaging apps, it has been designed to keep users engaged and on the platform for extended periods of time. It can be difficult for children to resist the notifications encouraging them to respond. Encourage your child to take a break from Messenger by enabling the ‘do not disturb’ feature, which will stop all notifications for a set amount of time. 

  • As Messenger is linked to a user’s Facebook account, many of the privacy settings are set within the Facebook account itself. However, you can access some of these privacy settings via the Messenger app.

    To manage privacy settings:

    • Select your profile picture and scroll down to ‘Privacy’ and select ‘Message delivery’.
    • For the ‘Friends of friends’ option, select ‘Message requests’.
    • For the ‘Others on Facebook’ option, select ‘Don’t receive requests’.
  • There are a few settings to help manage interactions and content. Ensure you have set the relevant privacy settings to limit who can message you. You can ignore messages from individual users and limit who can see your stories.

    To set ‘Story audience’:

    • Select your profile picture and scroll down to ‘Privacy’ and select ‘Story audience’.
    • Ensure the setting has been set to ‘Friends’ rather than ‘Public’.

    To ‘Restrict’ another user:

    • Select the conversation you wish to ignore and click on the user’s name at the top.
    • Scroll down to ‘Restrict’.
    • This will give the option of seeing less of the person without blocking them.
    • To enable, select ‘Restrict’.

    To ‘mute’ another user (restricting notifications from that chat):

    • Select the conversation you want to mute and click on that user’s name at the top.
    • At the top select the mute icon to mute this chat.
    • You will be presented with the following mute options:
      • Message notifications
      • Call notifications
      • Message and call notifications
  • Users can report and block other users who may be bothering them or behaving inappropriately on the platform.

    To report a user:

    • Select a message from the user you wish to report and choose the user’s name at the top.
    • Scroll down to ‘Report’ and select the problem to report from the listed options.

    To block a user:

    • Select a message from the user you wish to block and choose the user’s name at the top.
    • Scroll down to ‘Block’ and select ‘Block messages and calls’.
    • Note: you also have the option here to block on Facebook.

    To report a message:

    • Find the message you want to report.
    • Press and hold on the message until reactions and other options appear below the message.
    • Select ‘More’ and choose ‘Report’.
  • There are limited features to help manage time and purchases in Messenger. Users can manage their notification settings to help limit screen time and disable their activity status.

    To manage notification settings:

    • Select your profile picture and scroll down to ‘Notifications and sounds’.
    • Toggle off the ‘Show previews’
    • Toggle off the ‘New friend notification’ option.
    • Select ‘Do not disturb’ and choose an option from the listed times given. This will mute all notifications for the selected time period.

    To disable ‘Activity status’:

    • Select you profile picture and scroll down to ‘Activity status’.
    • Toggle off the ‘Show when you’re active’ option.

Keeping up to date with your child’s settings and friends on Facebook will help manage their privacy and interactions within Messenger, as both accounts are linked.

Meta has created a dedicated Teen privacy centre to help teen users manage their privacy on all Meta platforms.

Facebook has a designated ‘Parents portal’ which is worth exploring to find out more about Facebook and Messenger.