You’ve probably seen ‘musical.ly’ cropping up a lot in the news lately. It’s an app that has caught on like wildfire – particularly amongst preteens – allowing users to create 40-second “music videos” of themselves lip syncing and dancing and then share them among their friends and followers.
Sounds harmless, but the app has been linked to incidences of bullying, pornography, even girls using it as a conduit for self-harm.
Wenona Junior School in Sydney has been one of the first schools to implement a ban of the app, sending a letter to parents saying, “A number of girls have been … uploading performances in school uniform, which introduces numerous other potential risks.”
It claims that a lot of this created content is sexually charged, and places “a sense of achievement in drawing high numbers of followers … [meaning] girls will accept friend requests all too quickly, without ensuring they do know the person.”
Kidspot spoke to Sydney mum Jenna*, who feels incredibly uneasy about the lack of control she has over her nine-year-old daughter Anna’s* use of the app.
“I’m most concerned about the sexualisation”
As a social manager, Jenna knows better than most about the importance of keeping her daughter safe online, and if it was solely up to her Anna wouldn’t have any social media accounts for at least another three or four years. Unfortunately, her ex (Anna’s dad) is making it particularly hard for her to simply veto the use of musical.ly.
“It’s kind of scary because [just having a Pinterest account] she already says things to me like, ‘I don’t have any likes and I’ve made like four walls now,’” Jenna told Kidspot.
“It’s already ingrained that she’s validated by how many likes or interactions she gets … But I think with the Instagram and musical.ly I’m most concerned about the sexualisation. It’s teaching kids to perform – they’re marketing themselves and that’s actually terrifying.”
The app is used by a number of tween idols such as Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande.
“When I first looked at it I nearly fell off my chair”
When Jenna first heard her daughter mention musical.ly around six months ago, she didn’t think too much about it. However when she looked at it, she nearly fell off her chair.
The video content her daughter was creating was full of “pouting lips” and attempts to portray herself as more “teenage”.
“Of course kids will dress up – but when they’re getting into their mum’s clothes to bust out the latest Ariana Grande, a highly sexual song, that’s a completely different thing,” Jenna says.
“I know Anna doesn’t have any bad intentions, but the reality is it’s not perceived that way. You’ve got a nine year old who’s sexualising herself and not even understanding why it could be harmful.”
Her dad’s not helping the matter
After realising the safety issue posed by musical.ly, she did all she could to stop her daughter using it, saying they would discuss her using it again when she was in Year 6 (she is now in Year 4).
Anna kept pestering, saying all her friends used it – so Jenna set up an account for her daughter on her phone: “I’m happy for her to use that account with her friends because I can see what she’s doing and monitor it.”
However, Anna’s father – from whom Jenna is separated – is less concerned about the app and allows his daughter to use it freely. Anna spends every second weekend with her father, and during those times he has completely different rules towards her accessing the app.
“He now shares something with her that I don’t know about and he said to her, ‘Well it’s at my house so it has nothing to do with your mum,’” Jenna says.
Anna’s father has allowed her to open an account on a phone at his place, which Jenna has no way of monitoring, a prospect Jenna quickly sums up as “terrifying”.
“I have a child and she’s having this whole life online that I have no exposure to.”
What parents need to know about musical.ly
Leonie Smith, aka The Cyber Safety Lady, has compiled an article, detailing why musical.ly is not an app for children. She lists some of the main dangers as being:
Is there a safe way to use it?
Parents like Jenna have the right attitude towards this sort of online communication for their children: if it’s going to be used, it needs to be closely monitored.
Ultimately we agree with a comment made by a parent on Common Sense Media: “Very fun, but not for tweens.”
The musical.ly website says the app is a fun way for users to express their creativity, however it also warns, “Like with any social media site, we strongly encourage you to monitor your child’s account for safety purposes, and to have an ongoing open dialogue with your kids about appropriate behaviour on social media.”
While every parent does their best to keep track of their child’s online imprint, we all know sometimes things slip by our watchful eye. You’ll save yourself a lot of hassle if you delete the app quick smart, but if your kid is using musical.ly, just be sure that they use all the privacy settings available.
*All names have been changed to protect the family.