App Alert: Flinch

Remember how fun it was to have staring contests with your friends when you were growing up?  The staring contests are back…but this time the friends aren’t really friends—they’re strangers from all over the world who are playing a host of apps that set up staring contests.  These apps used advanced facial recognition software that detects emotions, dictating who wins the game.  Flinch and Don’t Blink are just a few that kids are downloading and playing at the lunch table at school.

A high school senior told me about it just last week.  “It’s the new thing.  Everyone is playing.  But, now that I think about it, why would you have a staring contest with a random person when there are so many better things to do?”  And that is the question, isn’t it? 

Not just better things to do, but safer.  The first article I came to when I googled staring contest apps showed a screen shot of two men playing the game—one with a gun pointed toward his own mouth as if he were about to commit suicide.  It has also been touted as a “hook-up” app for high school kids.  There are obvious concerns about cyberbulling and predatorial behavior, as well.

Fortunately, the company that designed Flinch has designed a system where users can block one another after meeting so they won’t be matched again.   They’re also monitoring and deleting users who are inappropriate with the app.  Both of these measures, however, are after the inappropriate or even concerning exchange has happened.  We don’t want to retroactively protect our kids.  We want to proactively protect them.

As we say every Technology Tuesday, we’ve got to be aware of what our kids are doing.  We need to know what apps they’re downloading, what games their playing, and who they’re meeting while doing so.  Link their itunes or google play account to yours so you know when they’ve downloaded an app.  Don’t allow younger children to download anything without your permission.  Development is always important to keep in mind, as well.  If you have a teenager who has downloaded flinch, talk with them about it.  Ask questions first.  Share your thoughts after.  Questions such as, “What do you like about flinch?”  “How do you feel about it’s safety?”  “What have you learned about the people you meet?” can be good to help them develop their own critical thinking.  And we want our teens to learn to be critical, safe, aware consumers of technology on their own.  And then we want to guard their technology use and limit it if we have any sense that they’re crossing safe boundaries.

If you have a younger child, certain apps are just not in their best interest.  Check back on Technology Tuesdays for more apps to watch.  In the meantime, staring contests for kids are better left face to real face.  They learn to build relationships and enjoy a connection that’s real, rather than the pseudo-relationships that screens can perpetuate.

Here’s a little more information on flinch: http://www.businessinsider.com/flinch-is-a-staring-contest-app-2015-