Selfie-loving, technology obsessed, iPad addicts: Today’s kids and tweens have been called many things, and according to recent research studies and an app from New York developer Tinybop, empathetic should be added to the list.
A new study from Nickelodeon entitled Story of Me 2 found that 93% of kids would like to have a friend from a different group, and they also believe they should do good things for others. Aware of kids’ inherently good intentions, Tinybop CEO Raul Gutierrez thinks social media may hinder young peoples’ abilities to be empathetic as they grow older. And he plans to change that with Me.
“We live in this era of the ‘selfie,’ which is a very empty act,” says Gutierrez. “Me is the opposite of that. It’s not about ‘look at me here I am doing x.’ This is a deep dive into, ‘This is my mom, how does my mom make me feel, what’s her story, where was she born, what are my favorite things about her and what’s my best memory about this person.’”
Tinybop’s 12 other apps, which include The Robot Factory, Space, The Human Body and Homes, are already in more than 600,000 schools across the US and have almost 10 million downloads. Gutierrez is hoping that Me, which launched last month and targets kids ages six to eight, will catch on just as strongly, especially since there is nothing else like it on the market.
The app developer may be in luck. The University of British Columbia recently released a study that says iPad apps can teach kids just as well as human instructors. Gutierrez says Me has the potential to capture children’s empathetic tendencies, tapping into their abilities to learn from apps and actually teach emotional understanding through technology.
In doing so, Me first has kids create an avatar and input answers to specific questions surrounding their likes, dislikes and feelings. Then they enter information on their family members and their friends along the same lines. There are also daily questions and games to make kids ponder their lives and the things around them. They can answer the questions using drawings, photos, text or recordings to include all learning types.
The hope is that children talk about these issues out loud with their families after putting them into the app. (To that end, nothing in the app is shared or distributed without permission.)
Me is currently available on the Apple App store for US$2.99, and the hope is that it will be used in schools and at home the same way as Tinybop’s other apps. It is also available in more than 60 languages.
“My nine-year-old had a list of friends, and he was putting in their traits and said ‘this person–I like him but sometimes he makes me really mad.’ And it started this conversation,” says Gutierrez. “That was the beginning of his understanding of this kid as not just being annoying, but it turns out this child is on the autism spectrum, and my child didn’t understand that until we had that conversation.”
The next step for the Me app is to get it into a scientific double-blind study (where neither the participants nor the experiments know who is receiving what treatment to prevent bias), says Gutierrez.
“What we really want is to get them to a proper double-blind scientific study to show how effective these tools are versus others,” says Gutierrez. “We don’t have that yet, and unfortunately a lot of universities want you to fund the study, which to me seems ethically not right. But it’s still a very new field and a lot of times these studies take a year or two to happen.”