“Have you heard of musical.ly? It’s the new thing. All the kids are downloading it!” The mom who said these words to me yesterday is one I trust. As a mom, she’s on it and had already downloaded the app and gave me a preview when she came into my office.
“You click here. And here. And I just kept clicking to see what I could find. I didn’t end up seeing anything pornographic yet, but I think I was just a few clicks away... I did see girls dancing around to a song holding their middle fingers up like this” (and she proceeded to do a bang-up imitation of twelve year-old girls flipping off a camera during a music video).
I did a little research myself. Musical.ly is basically an app where kids (or adults with a lot of time) can create their own lip sync music videos. Dubsmash does something similar. But musical.ly has a social media component. Herein lies the rub. It also shot to the top of the app charts immediately.
Users can make their own profile private, which is great for kids. Other people who don’t follow your child won’t be able to see their videos. But, it’s not necessarily your child’s videos that are the problem. What my friend was saying was that in a few days, her son had “liked” (followed, in social media terms) 300 people—mostly people he didn’t know. So, when you go around with the ability to click on other people’s videos at random, you can imagine what ultimately you end up finding.
The iTunes store rates it 12+ for: “infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence, infrequent/mild profanity or crude humor, infrequent/mild alcohol, tobacco, drug use or references, infrequent/mild sexual content and nudity, and infrequent/mild mature/suggestive themes”. Common Sense Media suggests an age range of 16+, however all of the reviews talk about swearing and sexual content. Again, if the videos are being uploaded and sent out immediately, it doesn’t sound like there’s a great deal of regulation going on from the app developers.
As always, kids need to ask permission before they download an app, unless they’re in their later high school years and have proven themselves trustworthy with technology.
If your child is younger or has a history of struggles with technology, you need to download the app yourself first, as my wise friend did. If you feel like it’s safe to proceed and let your child have the app, please talk to them first. Conversation needs to be a part of all things technology. Ask your child why they want the app and how they plan to use it. If they were in your position, what would be their concerns as a parent? We want to teach kids to learn to think with discernment on everything, including technology. Ask questions first, to give them an opportunity for them to do the thinking first. Then, let them know your concerns. Put whatever boundaries necessary around their “likes” and the videos they view.
Our other concern about the app is the furthered narcissism that can be enveloped in it. All social media relies on the assumption that others are interested. They care about the pictures I’m posting, the tweets I’m tweeting, and now the videos I’m uploading. It’s good to have conversation with kids, too, around this idea. Technology becomes more about building an audience than a community. How can your child continue to focus on building a community more than followers. It’s a great question to ask them.
Finally, we can’t say it enough. You are the gatekeeper on technology in your home. Your child needs your protection in their younger years and your wise and thoughtful conversation in the later years. Ask questions to help them think. We want kids to learn to use technology responsibly, and you are their best and realistically their only teacher who cares about their well-being. The app developers aren’t likely in it for that reason. And neither are their peers, even when they’re making silly music videos.
Check out what Common Sense Media has to say about the app here.