Apps are unquestionably ubiquitous today, even among toddlers, with 6 in 10 2-year-olds possessing the ability to use them.* It’s not a surprise that they have this skill set. They easily put that skill to practice by handling their parents’ smartphones as well as tablets. For older youth, 4 in 10 of them own their own tablets, as do half of tweens. Even more tweens (6 in 10) own their own cell phones, as do 8 in 10 teens.** And having their own devices only increases youth’s exposure to the world of apps.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider the nature of an app. We at YouthBeat® think of an app as a window to the content producer’s toolset, storyline, and/or imagination. Some, such as YouTube, Netflix, or Google (YouTube for grown-ups), are clearinghouses for further connections. Others, like ABC Mouse or Minecraft, direct young users to specific creative, educational, and/or entertaining content.
In what seems like an infinite pool of available apps designed for youth, they’re not all created equal. Some are purely academic. In our YouthBeat® Trendspotter, we’ve written about apps that parents can use to link to their children’s classrooms, like ClassDojo and Seesaw, that allow teachers to upload notifications and grades to facilitate communication with parents. Others, like Angry Birds (still a Top 5 favorite with kids**) are purely for entertainment. Social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat are Top 5 favorites with tweens and teens**who want to stay connected to peers. **
But some apps are more controversial. For example, Bravo Kids Media has drawn criticism from the Endangered Bodies International Campaign for releasing an app called Beauty Clinic Plastic Surgery, in which players perform “operations” on patients to enhance their looks. Endangered Bodies contends that this fosters the notion that one’s natural beauty may not be good enough, and that plastic surgery may be the answer. At YouthBeat®, we do see that self-acceptance is still an issue for youth, particularly girls.More than 1 in 10 tween and teen girls want to change something about their face, and the same proportion of each cohort wishes to be prettier/more attractive.**
Our experience is that people who create apps for children generally do it because they want to entertain or otherwise enrich children’s lives. That doesn’t mean they thoroughly think through the ramifications of their content. We advise clients to vet their content with experts, parents, and when appropriate, youth, before release, in order to “first, do no harm.”
*Source: YouthBeat® Jr., Fall 2017
**Source: YouthBeat®, Jul-Dec 2017