The Most Dangerous Apps for Kids

April 13, 2022

We hope that the above-noted clickbait title captured your attention. Every few months we see these “Most Dangerous Apps for Kids” articles posted online by a variety of different groups. Although well-intentioned, how effective are such lists especially when the apps that are dangerous or safe today, may not be one week, one month, or even one year from now. The reality – in today’s onlife world the app and social media platform landscape is in a constant state of change; what is popular with youth today, may not be tomorrow. The other reality – no matter what the app or social network, where youth engage online, there will always be those who will want to prey upon their innocence. Of interest specific to these lists, we are often able to identify way more positives on how youth are using the apps and social media platforms identified than the negatives. This is also something we anecdotally hear from youth who will often blow off these lists as nothing more than “Boomer” based juvenoia.

It is our belief that the most popular apps and social networks used by youth are not inherently dangerous, it’s how a user engages on these platforms that make them dangerous, no matter if it’s a youth or an adult! This is why digital literacy education for all is so important.

Several years ago, Dr. Dana Boyd in their book, “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens”(1), spoke about four basic principles (we added a fifth) that if youth understand and implement, will keep them “safer” no matter what the app or social network:

1. What you post or say online can become public, permanent, searchable, exploitable, copiable, and shareable even if you click the delete button.

2. Once you have written yourself into being online your digital footprint now becomes very searchable by anyone.

3. The disinhibition effect of technology can often reduce empathy and civility. Think before you hit the send button.

4. Anything written or published can usually be copied, morphed, transferred, and weaponized

5. The internet offers an unmediated environment where you don’t know who might be reading or watching because it is always on and the internet never sleeps

If we combined the above 5 principles, with how youth are targeted or groomed online, then it doesn’t matter what the app or social network, a youth will understand that what the other person is doing is wrong and therefore will more likely react accordingly. This is something that we call stimulus/response education. It’s really hard for youth to understand dangerous people, but it is really easy for them to understand dangerous situations if they have been taught what they are, and how they are used and weaponized as a pretext. This is something that we drill down deeper into in our free webbook for parents (2).

Yes, we do believe that parents, caregivers, and youth need to know about the positives and negatives of apps and Social Networks presently being used by youth! Yes, we need to know about the age-appropriateness of any app, social network, or online game! Why, because knowledge and the understanding and application of that knowledge is power. This is especially important when it comes to the safety, security, and privacy of youth in today’s onlife world. One of the best resources that we highly recommend to help parents and caregivers with this knowledge comes from Common Sense Media (3).

Let’s move away from these “most dangerous apps for kids” lists. We need to move to an “enlighten and not frighten” stimulus/response-based approach to educating parents and youth, specific to the apps and social networks that are in use today, or in the future, that is supported by good evidence-based peer-reviewed researched facts, not fear!

Digital Food for Thought

The White Hatter

PS: An appropriate heading for this posting should have been, “The good & bad of today’s most popular apps and social networks – what parents and youth need to know” However, would it have garnered as many readers? Probably not – just saying!





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