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The teen app store: Creating a digital landscape for teenagers

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By Shubhangi Shah

“My experience in the education space and working closely with teenagers taught me that they find it hard to gain acceptance in the digital landscape despite being digital natives,” says Saurabh Saxena, the founder, and CEO of Uable, a social media app for teens. “Teens spend a lot of time on the Instagram & Snapchats of the world and end up consuming information that might not always be relevant or useful to them,” he says about what prompted him to come up with a platform
catering to those from ages 13-19. Saxena’s previous stint was with ed-tech platform Vedantu, which he co-founded in 2014.

On the face of it, a teen app seems interesting but tricky at the same time. After all, what can Uable offer that Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube can’t? Answering that, the platform founder says, Uable offers a “space exclusively for teens to connect with like-minded peers and creators, explore their passions, interests via safe communities and build their profile.” The platform also lets users join interest-based clubs and hang out on chat servers similar to Discord. The app also has an in-built social currency called U-coins, which is given as a reward for high engagement. It can be used to unlock premium content and experiences, the creator explains. Uable is also ad-free. Yes, every age group has some specific demands and expectations regarding their digital experience. It’s especially the case with teens, who are seen as among the most digital-savvy. The two pandemic years, when everything got shut and schools went online, also added to that. Hence, apps specifically catering to teenagers don’t seem far-fetched.

Learning online
Uable’s founder is also the co-creator of Vedantu, an ed-tech platform. Although several such platforms have come up in recent years, Khan Academy remains the OG. Started by Salman Khan, not the actor, in 2008, it also has an app. If you are a teenage student or a parent looking for ways to enhance your child’s lessons, the Khan Academy app is something you can consider. As a student, you might be spending a certain amount of time self-studying. And at times, you surely stumble upon questions. With no helping hand near you, the question might go on the back-burner, only to be forgotten and reappear in an exam as a nightmare or cause trouble for you to go ahead with your lesson. The next time you face such a problem, go no further than your smartphone and head to an app called FILO. Click the photo of your query or type it on the app, which claims to connect you with a tutor within 60 seconds. Its services are currently available for students from classes 8 to 12.

Build skills
Every age is the right age to learn new skills. However, it can prove to be specifically fruitful during your teenage as it can aid you in getting to know your interests and skills.

Learning new languages helps you connect with people across borders, read literature from distant lands, and enhance your employability. If looking for digital options, Duolingo app offers courses in several languages in the form of small lessons to practice daily. If thinking of going creative, Skillshare is an app you can consider. The platform offers content on several creative disciplines such as painting, photography, etc. Then there are individual apps catering to specific skills. Yes, the internet has somewhat democratised information and learning. What was once held by a few has now been brought to the fingertips of many.

What about users’ safety?
There is an added threat regarding users’ privacy and safety, especially on social media platforms that are used by many. Whether it’s an app specifically for teens or one covering all age groups, issues such as fake news, phishing, cyberbullying, and abuse are all-pervasive. On how Uable plans to tackle these, given that teens make up a vulnerable group, Saxena says, “we ensure the safety of our teenage users by filtering out harmful, abusive, and disturbing content from the platform”. It, he says, is done with moderation at multiple levels. The app uses AI (artificial intelligence) moderation tools to prevent users from sharing unwanted posts. Explaining further, he says, “every club on the app has a team of teen moderators. They check if anything shared within a club is relevant and appropriate for the club. They also have the power to remove posts or ban users from the club.” Apart from that, users can report content, which is reviewed and then taken down if found inappropriate.

Parental supervision
Every platform has its set of rules and regulations to ensure users’ safety. But while navigating online, your teenage child might need greater security. Yes, as a parent, you should go all for your child’s digital independence, but if you are concerned about her safety, there are some parental control apps you can consider.

Canopy is one such app that can protect your teen from exposure to explicit content and inappropriate messaging. You can also block her access to certain apps you don’t consider appropriate. Qustodio is another such app you can explore.

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