Musical.ly just may’ve replaced Instagram as kids’ starter app. This is an educated guess. I remember a few years ago my friend Trudy Ludwig, the award-winning children’s author, observing that, based on all the elementary schools she visits throughout the U.S., Instagram was huge with 4th and 5th graders. Don’t get us wrong, we know the official minimum age of these apps is 13. The reality, however, is quite different. Younger kids, especially girls, were cutting their social media teeth on Instagram.
Now, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s Musical.ly, the social app for making 15-sec. DIY music videos (usually lip-syncing selfie videos). A year ago it first hit No. 1 in Apple’s App Store, according to BusinessInsider.com.
My friend, author and cyberbullying researcher Sameer Hinduja just tested and wrote up a great primer on Musical.ly – which he writes now has 80 million users, 10 million of them uploading videos a day. Parents, definitely check out Sameer’s thorough review. He’s seeing very young users in it. He was “amazed as to how many ‘Musicals’ [videos] were made by children who looked like they were 8.”
Safety in creativity
The more focus, or purpose, a digital environment has the safer it is, like quests in a game or – in Musical.ly’s case – producing little videos (see my 7 properties of safety in a digital age). In this case, there are 2 elements of purpose: music itself and creating something (social producing, not just social networking). I love what Sameer wrote about this:
I think I would have totally used this app back then as certain songs – for weeks and months at a time – became my jam, my anthem, my mantra. I know I would have wanted to share them in creative, personalized ways with others just to see who could relate to that same music like I did, and just to see whose heart beat just like my own.
So it’s sociality around a shared interest. It promotes collaboration: among other things, Musical.ly allows users to record “duets” from separate locations – across town or across continents. The people behind the app get ideas for features from young users themselves (“Musical.ly taps into their suggestions by having giant chat groups on Messenger and WhatsApp to test features with its users from the US, Brazil, or the Philippines every day,” BusinessInsider reported.)
Life literacy needed, here
Huge caveat, though: the younger the users, the more engagement they need from people in their lives who love them – people with life literacy. Engage with your kids in Musical.ly. Help them keep it creative and collaborative – with people who really share their interest in a song, an artist, a band or music in general. Trying to control creativity quashes it, of course, but you could go into the app with them and together develop your top picks (not to criticize other Musers, but to learn – develop do’s and don’ts for making their own videos). For the youngest users, parents (who are ok with them using the app) can be production assistants.
But we also know that all the parental engagement in the world can’t prevent negativity from happening in anything social, right? The most important kind of engagement we can provide is perspective on publicity’s downside and emotional backup. For the former, all you need to do is sit down with them and do a search of “worst Musical.ly” together – see Sameer’s post. For the latter, we really need to be there for them. Tough experiences don’t have to happen in this app, but they can, and we know they can’t be avoided altogether. It’s tough on us to see our kids go through them, but we know that tough experiences grow resilience, which is what keeps them safe long after they leave home. And it helps greatly when they know we have their backs.
- On the importance of focusing more on resilience as an internal “safety tool”: Part 1 and Part 2. See also “Heart to heart: How connection protects & grows resilience” and this about EU Kids Online’s important findings on the subject published in 2013.
- About Trudy Ludwig’s beautiful picture books, which have become tools in many homes and schools for teaching social skills, character ed and bullying prevention
- “The 7 properties of safety in a digital age”: I’d like to see educators, parents, social media industry and researchers thinking together more on building these into apps that appeal to people under 18.
- Examples of why purposeful, in this case music-focused social producing, is “safer” than selfie videos or stills: “‘Am I pretty?’ videos by teens” and “More clarity on teens’ ‘Am I pretty?’ videos”
- See also Sameer’s “The Snapchat Revolution: Background, Basics, Pros, and Cons” and “Should you give your child Snapchat or Instagram?”
- Some perspective on “likes” and the popularity contest that happens with kids in some apps: “Why not a gazillion likes?: Getting wise to gamification in social media” (posted in 2013)