The fun and convenience of social media apps such as Snapchat and Instagram can be tainted with risk of addiction and explicit content, which is why two Durango developers launched a new social media app this summer to give kids a safe space to share content.
Adam and Dana Ahern designed Village Social, a phone app for kids ages 9 to 16 meant to give them a safe place to share photos and make plans with their friends and families.
Village has a direct messaging component, similar to text messaging, and a social news feed, similar to Facebook or Instagram. But unlike other platforms, it allows parents to monitor their children’s activity closely and completely blocks explicit or sexual content, said Adam Ahern. The app also doesn’t track likes on posts, a user’s followers or other data that can serve to feed social media addiction, he said.
The Aherns were inspired to build the app as the parents of four children who became addicted to their phones and to television, he said. The new Village app is meant to help parents raise kids who can responsibly navigate the online world, he said.
“It is providing the training wheels and drivers ed for the teens so that when they leave the house they are ready for the technology world out there,” Ahern said.
The free app does not have any advertising, and the Aherns expect never to sell ads. Eventually, the app could add premium features for subscribers, he said.
Snapchat, Instagram and other social media platforms are built on ad revenue and tailor the media served to users to encourage consumption of content. The design of social media platforms is similar to a casino’s need to keep visitors engaged to drive revenue, Ahern said.
Social media can also be addictive like gambling.
Durango counselor Sierra Williams said she has observed the rise in social media addiction since she started working six years ago.
The use of the platforms becomes an addiction when users are valuing time on the platforms more than other aspects of their life, such as homework or sleep, said Williams, an addiction specialist with Durango Family Therapy. Other symptoms of addiction can include irritation when social media use is brought up as a problem and other people identifying it as a problem, she said.
Often, treating a social media addiction is more complicated than simply taking away someone’s phone. Social media appeals to a person’s need for love and belonging and so the individual needs to find other outlets to fulfill the needs that social media was meeting, she said.
“It’s about the process of meeting the person where they are,” Williams said.
In addition to trying to prevent addiction, Village Social gives parents control over their children’s online experience and safety, Ahern said.
Village app users must have another users’ phone number, screen name or email address to add them, which is meant to prevent strangers from contacting children online. The open nature of other apps, such as Snapchat, make it possible children will receive explicit messages.
Village Social also provides a high level of control to parents over a child’s use of the app.
Some of the parent control features include:
Data reports showing how much a child is messaging and who they are messaging. Notifications if a child sends or receives explicit messages.Limits on the GIFs children can use based on media ratings, such as Y, G, PG and PG-13. Turning off a child’s ability to send media altogether. Village also provides a “news feed” that allows users to select who will see a post and how long the post will exist. Posts can be set to expire in an hour, a day, a week or a month.
The app has been available in the app store since July and has been downloaded hundreds of times, Ahern said.
“The feedback is that Village is a great bridge to get kids familiar with technology, to get kids familiar with the rules of social media,” he said.