Just like plenty of YouTube videos may look like innocent enough at first glance, so too are a variety of disturbing apps available for download on smartphones. CNN recently reported on a particular category of these apps, which are targeted at kids and simulate cosmetic surgery. The objective of these free app games is for your child to perform liposuction, a nose job, lip fillers, or a double-eyelid surgery on a brightly colored cartoon character.
The Verge points out that Princess Plastic Surgery, created by Bravo Kids Media, Nose Doctor Fun Kids Game, Celebrity Plastic Surgery Hospital, and Little Skin Doctor Treatment Game are just a few disturbing apps kids may be downloading and using.
Christine Elgersma, senior editor for parent education at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that addresses tech and media issues in a family context, spoke to the news outlet, explaining that the way the apps are initially marketed can make it tough for parents to identify them as inappropriate right off the bat. "This type of app is often free, which is often something parents look for first," she said. "Also, there are some that aren't obviously cosmetic surgery apps at first glance, so parents may download first and find out later. Most importantly, though, the content isn't developmentally appropriate. It's confusing and scary for little kids and sends a potentially harmful message."
One mom of three from Ireland named Andrea Mara learned her 9-year-old daughter was using an explicit plastic surgery app on her Kindle table. "Not only is it graphic and gross, it's also sending a really negative message to little girls. Don't like how you look? Just go under the knife, because you are nothing beyond your appearance," she told CNN.
Alyson Schafer, a family counselor, author and parenting expert, agrees with Mara that these apps send a dangerous message about body image. "These apps are saying that there is a beauty ideal, and if you’re outside of it, you need to modify yourself with an invasive approach," she tells Parents.com. "These apps send a horrid message." Not to menton that it's bad enough that young girls are already worrying about makeup and losing weight from an extremely young age, Schafer notes, so obviously, apps like these are only adding fuel to an already unnerving fire.
Ultimately, parents would do well to be more engaged and cognizant of the content that's being displayed in every app on a kid's smartphone. "It's every parent's responsibility to know which apps their kids have downloaded," Schafer says. "Some apps can look very sweet and innocent, with unicorns and little doggies, but can have a bad moral message. You have to actually interact with the app or go to a third party source that assesses them." For independent reviews, Schafer likes CommonSenseMedia.org.
If you do learn your child has been using an app like this, Schafer recommends seeing it as an opportunity to have an educational conversation. You can ask questions like, "I se you're fascinated by that. What's interesting to you about it?" "That gives you the opportunity to challenge and correct their thinking," Schafer shares.
If a child insists on playing these apps, Schafer recommends lovingly responding with something along the lines of, "I have to say no. I am the parent, and it is my job to protect you. It is my job to keep you safe. It's okay if we disagree, and we have to follow the experts' opinions. I love you that much I’m keeping safe."