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Messaging apps rule: What’s interesting about that for parents

This statement stopped me in my tracks when I was reading about how messaging apps now reign supreme in social media: “‘Ask and you shall receive’ has become the new customer experience.” I’ll tell you why that gave me pause in a moment. First a look at what’s being reported about mobile messaging.

whatsapp“The top four messaging apps—WhatsApp and Messenger (both owned by Facebook), WeChat and Viber—have nearly 3 billion users alone,” reports Ad Week, with Facebook’s two representing more than half of that. So, at 3 billion users worldwide, just the top 4 mobile messaging apps have surpassed all “social networking apps” by half a billion users.

The one-stop-shopping trend

messengerParents already may have noticed how much they’re in use! Kik and Snapchat may not be in the Top 4, but certainly in teens’ Top 10, along with FB Messenger or Whatsapp (people, much less younger ones, hardly limit themselves to just one!). And where all this is going is not only texting and not even only audio and video chat as well. All this is going to one-stop shopping, figuratively and literally – from one place for all kinds of communication to one place for a whole lot of other stuff, of course including shopping (it already is in Asia – see this).

viberSo back to that statement, “‘Ask and you shall receive’ has become the new customer experience.” As an interest group in many countries and with the help of researchers, parents are just beginning to get past reflexive fear of social media to more nuanced, less lizard-brain/fight-or-flight thinking about this global new-media environment in which our children are growing up.

One of the things we’re all, regardless of age, getting very used to is that instant “you shall receive” feature of our media now. Music, videos, games and – of course – we are all at each other’s fingertips for instant gratification, interaction and consumption. Parents, children, bosses, friends, relatives, teachers, students, etc. And more conveniently, more availably all the time. Shopping has never been easier or more instantaneous.

kik

On-demand compassion, self-control needed

Self-control has never been more in demand, right? We keep seeing more evidence of the need for those internal sources of safety and well-being – self-control, resilience, critical thinking, media and social literacy and, in those moments when that self-control seems to be nowhere, compassion for self and others.

wechatWe parents need a lot of that self-compassion. Human beings fear what they don’t understand, and – even if we do understand apps and other social media – we don’t, almost can’t, fully understand how our children use them, especially if we don’t talk with them. I say “almost can’t” because trying to understand each child’s media use is like knowing where each child is and what s/he’s doing second by second. Media use is as individual, situational and contextual as living a life now.

Wisdom for parents

So, based on the work of a social psychologist and a family therapist, I suggest we have an opportunity to model (and therefore teach) self-control in two ways:

  • We can choose not to default to a negative view of our children’s experience with social media. Social psychologist Alison Ledgerwood at University of California, Davis, talks about how our brains default to the negative and tend to stay there. “We literally have to work harder to see the upside of things…. We forget to talk about the good stuff, and yet that’s exactly where our minds need the most practice.” As parents, we can model self-control by resisting going right to negative, fearful thinking and worst-case scenarios where kids and social media are concerned.
  • We can help our children learn self-control by bringing “parental control” into balance with the internal kind they’re learning. Author and family therapist Susan Stiffelman suggested in a 2014 talk that we think of ourselves as “captain of the ship in a child’s life” – and “ultimately about helping our children become their own self-assured captain. It’s not about control,” she said, “it’s about taking charge, owning the role as long as necessary and then handing it over so that they can handle life’s ups and downs with their hearts and their spirits intact.”

Related links

  • A teen’s-eye-view of a whole bunch of apps: Part 1 (FB, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, Yik Yak & more) and Part 2 (YouTube, Vine, Reddit, Google+ and more)
  • Kik, whose Toronto-based hosts say is used by 40% of US teens, “aspires to be the Western version of [China’s] WeChat,” according to the New York Times. The Times cites a law enforcement view that Kik’s “the problem app of the moment,” but leading researcher David Finkelhor writes that apps aren’t actually the problem (see his commentary in the Washington Post). “The FBI does not specifically track Internet-related crime, but in several recent studies we conducted at the Crimes Against Children Research Center [CCRC], we found that the number of such cases in the course of one year can be counted on one hand,” Dr. Finkelhor wrote. “They normally represent a small fraction of the roughly1,600 homicides of children each year, the vast majority of which occur at the hands of family members, neighbors, dating partners and gang rivals, all known from their face-to-face world. In 2009, we identified no homicides and only one abduction in a representative sample of arrests for Internet-related sex crimes against children.” [Finkelhor is director of the CCRC.]
  • A commentary in TechCrunch suggests that we’re at a turning point for mobile apps – “the end of the beginning” of their evolution, where the challenge is no longer creating them but 1) growing and retaining a user base (like WeChat’s in China) and 2) finding new applications [“Apps once lived only on mobile devices. But now apps have moved to cars, televisions and homes through systems powered by the dominant OS platforms (Apple and Android),” according to TechCrunch]. So we’re seeing consolidation in the app space because there aren’t many companies that can meet that challenge sustainably.
  • Top (free and paid) iPhone and iPad apps right now, according to Apple
  • A conversation on messaging apps last week with New York Times tech reporters
  • “Balancing external with internal Internet safety ‘tools'”
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