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  • Writer's pictureMatt Himsworth

BeReal - when chatting to your kids

I want to start this blog by making it clear that I find parenting very difficult, particularly with a teenage daughter, we share a lot of personality traits and I constantly make parenting errors and I sometimes feel like I haven't got a clue what I'm doing. So this post is certainly not a humble brag nor suggesting that I have the answers to a perfect parent-teen relationship.

One thing I do think I'm an expert in is social media and how young people interact with it. It's an important part of our business - talking to sports organisations and their young athletes about safe behaviours online and also supporting them when it goes wrong. My teenage daughter though seems to think I know nothing about it. Or at least that's the impression she gives.

I often preach, when we do sessions with Academy parents, that we should talk between the generations. So, as yet another new social media App BeReal, has had a bit of an explosion I decided to practice what I preach. I asked my teenage daughter to give me a run through. No judgement, no preaching, no life lessons from me, just her, sat with me, explaining how she uses the App, what she likes, what she doesn't, how it fits with her friendship groups and how it works.

It was the best way to learn about the App and to ask myself the question: whether it presents any new concerns or risks about how our young people process their data and private info and how their mental health is impacted.

The short answer is that, like any other social media App, it's as safe as the user's own behaviours. Most users seem to remain private and only share their images with people they have allowed to follow them and, provided that remains the default, it's no more dangerous than WhatsApp or similar Apps in terms of privacy.

There are public accounts though and I worry about those choosing to make their BeReal statuses public. These users are discoverable by absolutely anyone (and you can search for users by name) and the App encourages public users to upload a selfie from the front camera on their phone and the view in front of them from the back camera whilst tagging location. This would, of course, be a stalker's handbook.

Used in private, small groups, there's little harm that can be done, however, it is the commitment element of BeReal, and the impact this has on mental health, that concerns me more. At B5, we encourage people to turn off notifications on unimportant Apps (and BeReal is certainly on that list) because notifications trigger urgency, which causes anxiety, and adds a stress to a teenager's daily life which is not needed. In order to be able to view your friends' posts on BeReal, you need to have posted your own. Users will receive a notification and, if you don't post in time, your post will be described as being "late". If you don't post at all then you simply can't engage.

BeReal does have one safety selling point. It can't be awash with anonymous trolls. Users must take pictures from the front and back camera of their phone. So staying anonymous is a challenge (though, I doubt, impossible). At this point, I should embarrass myself (and my daughter) by posting my first (and almost certainly only) BeReal snap.

From my point of view, BeReal doesn't create any new problems, it offers the opportunity for users to breach their own privacy and engage in addictive behaviours, but, provided users exercise caution, privacy settings and don't allow themselves to become dependent on the dopamine fix that the App provides, then the App can be navigated as safely as any other.

To take the generational chat one step further, I'll finish with the words of my late grandad: everything in moderation.


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