When we think about teenagers using social media, we tend to think of Instagram and Snapchat. But as ever, teens surprise us with their inventiveness and the creative ways they find to communicate with each other online.
Research by The Atlantic has found that teens are using – wait for it – Google Docs to talk to each other in class. It’s brilliant in its simplicity. In a classroom where a child is working on a laptop, they open a collaborative document. One that they use for schoolwork, so no-one will question them. They repurpose it, to chat to (and about) their friends. It’s modern day note-passing in class.
This is a great example of how children approach problem-solving. The problem: how to chat to each other during lessons, with no phone, and no access to social media. The solution: take a school-approved, secure medium that all your classmates are using at the same time via their computers, and turn it into an undetectable chatting app.
Kids passing notes in class is nothing new. But under the watchful eye of a teacher, they ran the risk of getting caught. Now, working on a laptop, in a sanctioned app such as Google Docs, even the beadiest of eyes would be hard pushed to spot kids talking to each other in school, under the guise of doing legitimate work.
According to US site, Bark, children are also using Google to keep electronic diaries that are entirely private, or to bully each other. This is creating digital ‘burn books’ where all but the victim contribute to a page (although thankfully, The Atlantic’s research indicates this is rare).
Even when kids come home from school, and well-meaning parents impose a social media ban or curfew, Google Docs gets around it.
Unless as a parent you’re standing over your child as they do their homework, it can be hard to tell whether that Google document is a collaborative school project or an extended chat with friends.
So whatever safeguards you put in place for children on social media, they will find creative ways to continue to stay online with their friends. And as a brand, whatever app you build for children, I guarantee you won’t be able to predict exactly how they’ll use it.