What Apps Are the Worst for Kids’ Brains?

Words by
Morgan Wilcock

MAR 01, 2024

What Apps Are the Worst for Kids’ Brains?

It’s no secret that technology poses risks to kids. As the research continues to pile in, overwhelming evidence indicates a connection between mental health risks and social media use. This is confirmed by the US Surgeon General, who unabashedly advises that we are in the midst of a youth mental health crisis.

Clearly, something needs to change. But, as busy parents, it’s unlikely we have the time to constantly assess the ins and outs of every single app our kids want to download. 

two young kids on a laptop

Below we’ll list some of the most harmful apps to be aware of but the most beneficial approach for parents is to educate ourselves on the common features of harmful apps so we know the underlying dangers and can tailor our decisions to our own kids on a case-by-case basis.

The Stages of Brain Development

What happens when our children use technology, and why is it causing so many problems for them? Child development is intensely impacted by technology usage.

Parents may not realize the early use of smart devices wires the brain for addiction and prevents child development.

Nicole Runyon, LMSW

Infancy and early childhood is when a child is developing healthy attachments to their caregiver and learning about boundaries and respect. Kids of elementary school age are building confidence and working through discomfort by doing hard things. And teenagers are developing their identities, separating from their parents, and deciding who they will be. 

All of these stages can be severely impaired by access to too much technology, limiting children’s ability to combat challenges and develop a strong sense of self. But we live in a technological world, and avoidance is nearly impossible — especially for the rising generation who encounter screens almost everywhere.

Let’s break down the specific dangers facing kids today so that we can empower them to be responsible tech users.

hand holding up a warning sign

The Most Dangerous Apps for Child Brain Development 

Below is a short list of the most dangerous apps for kids, but keep in mind that this list is not comprehensive. 

Apps with Open World or Private Chat

  • Roblox
  • Rec Room
  • Fortnite
  • Call of Duty
  • Instagram
  • Tiktok
  • Snapchat
  • X (Twitter)

Apps with Infinite Scrolling

  • Instagram
  • Tiktok
  • Snapchat
  • X (Twitter)
  • Facebook 
  • Youtube

Apps with Pornographic Content

  • Episode
  • Choices
  • Instagram
  • Tiktok
  • Snapchat
  • X (Twitter)
  • Facebook
  • Youtube

Apps with Incentivized Online Interactions

  • Instagram
  • Tiktok
  • X (Twitter)
  • Facebook

Anonymous Apps

  • Gas
  • Yik Yak
  • NGL
  • Tellonym

5 Features of Dangerous Apps

Each of the apps is on that list because they include some common features that make them intentionally hard to put down.

Below is a list of some of the common features of dangerous apps for kids. Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list, and dangerous apps may have features that are not included in this list. 

5 features of dangerous apps

Chats with Strangers

Private chatting between users is a common feature of most social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat, X (Twitter), Facebook, and Tiktok. Voice and video chat features are also common in multiplayer video games like Fortnite and Roblox. Being exposed to vulgar language and bullying is often a given when it comes to multiplayer gaming. 

One danger of these chats is that kids could stumble into a dangerous conversation with a predator who may obtain personal information about them like their full name, address, and phone number. In extreme cases, online predators may obtain explicit photos of a child and use them to extort the child for money or more explicit content. 

Infinite Scrolling 

These days, apps have gotten good at keeping users engaged for long stretches of time. They do this by feeding users an endless stream of content, perfectly curated to their likes and interests. 

Apps that suggest a bottomless reservoir of content to users make it difficult for kids to turn away, even if a task is pressing and time-sensitive. Be aware of how long your kids spend on these apps, and make adjustments where necessary. Too much screen time can result in addictive behaviors among kids.  

Pornographic Content

Pornographic content can be easily found on many social media apps, and the companies behind these apps are slow to protect kids from that content. Many more apps contain pornography hidden within their apps

Story apps are somewhat notorious for featuring sexual content. These are choose-your-own-adventure stories that often include pornographic storylines. The apps may look kid-friendly on the outside, but many are culprits of this common trope.

Opening up a dialogue with kids is vital to mitigating the risks of adolescent pornography use. 

Followers, Likes, and Other Incentivized Socializing

While social media apps have already been highlighted for their risk of contact with strangers, pornographic content, and screen addiction, the comparison culture that’s rife in social media apps cannot be overstated. 

The very nature of an app that promotes the accrual of followers and likes based on “desirable” content will inevitably encourage kids to curate perfect, but fake, online personalities — sometimes by dangerous means. They may find themselves unable to form their own sense of self because they’re constantly altering their behaviors and interests in pursuit of an unreachable online persona. 

If kids are interacting with social media, it’s important that they do so with an understanding that the people they see on their feed are more often than not advertising a false life. 

Face-altering Software

To really sell the image of perfection, social media users also tend to use editing software like filters to accrue more followers, likes, and engagement. These filters can lead to a lower sense of self-esteem and filter dysmorphia, a negative self-concept linked to the disparity between reality and filters. 

User Anonymity

Anonymous apps are growing in popularity because they shield individuals from any real-world repercussions of any harsh or inappropriate comments they make. 

These apps operate like social media by using a person’s location data to unite them with people that go to their same school, or live in the community. From there, many apps offer free rein for users to say whatever they want to about the people in their community, with no real-world punishments. 

Anonymous apps are often breeding grounds for intense bullying and ridicule.

What Can Parents Do? 

It may seem like every available app has at least one of the features of dangerous apps. But just because an app has one of these features doesn’t mean that you can’t take the opportunity to chat with your children about responsible technology use. 

As kids grow older, they’ll be able to handle more online freedom. Consider taking tech in steps so that kids are equipped to handle the many risks posed by technology as they age. 

What did we miss? Are there any features of dangerous apps that we didn’t include? Let us know in the comments!

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