Real talk: A teen’s relationship with social media today is super complicated.

Teens are no longer social media newbies. They know the pitfalls of too much posting and scrolling, but the allure of making social connections (like dating) can be hard to resist. This may be one reason a new app, BeReal—a social media app that prioritizes authenticity over hypercurated moments—is showing up on more teens’ phones today.

Since its launch in 2020, the BeReal app has been downloaded 100 million times. And since many of its users are teens, there are a few things parents need to know about it.

Unfiltered authenticity: What makes BeReal different

“We’re not here for the influencer or the filtered mass market life. We’re here to keep it simple, personal and real,” according to the app’s privacy policy. French founders Alexis Barreyat and Kévin Perreau launched the app in 2020 with an emphasis on authenticity and sharing genuine moments of users’ daily lives.

Like many social media apps, the app’s main focus is on sharing photos with friends. But unlike most other social media apps, there are no photo filters (the editing options that boost a photo’s appearance). No ads. No friend or follower counts on profiles. No verified users. And no video. In short, the app does one thing: It encourages its users to take and share a single photo once a day with friends.

The app uses both the front and back facing camera, and creates one image, which is usually a selfie of the person taking the photo, and what they’re looking at. Most photos are people and teens in hastily snapped ordinary moments, like working at a laptop or walking down the street, or awkward selfies.

Initially, app users can share posts to a newsfeed that’s visible only to the friends they’ve added on BeReal, and that’s a better fit for kids who may be just getting started on social media, says Bea Moise, a cognitive specialist and digital parenting coach. But the more someone uses BeReal, the more features are unlocked, such as sharing BeReal on other social media, or seeing posts from the global BeReal community.

“Starting them small and letting their world expand makes the most sense instead of giving them access to everything at once,” Moise says.

Timed engagement: The BeReal approach

The biggest difference between BeReal and other apps is timing. Other apps let users post as many times as they want to in a day. BeReal users get one chance a day to post. The app sends out a notification at random times prompting users that it’s time to BeReal. Users have two minutes to take a photo and post it.

And because users can only post once a day, there’s no way to binge on posts, or scroll and post endlessly. And users have 2 minutes to take the photo, which leaves little time to agonize over posting the perfect picture.

Privacy and safety considerations

Users can choose to share posts to a news feed of their friends or with the global community. They can also choose to share the post to other social media apps. As of this writing, BeReal doesn’t have specific parental controls. But there are a few things parents should know about if a teen is asking to use the app.

Age: According to BeReal’s terms of use, the app is intended for users age 13 and older. Kids can get around the age restriction by entering a different birthdate. Parents can block social media apps for kids under 13 using parental controls on the device itself, or using a parental control app like Verizon Smart Family.

Privacy and safety: Users can report a post if it’s inappropriate, and block or hide profiles of other app users, which prevents someone from showing up in a list of suggested friends. And the app’s terms include a three-strike rule: If someone is reported for sharing inappropriate content more than three times, BeReal can delete their profile.

Location: By default, location is turned off, but users can share their precise or approximate location. So it’s essential to talk with teens about whether that’s appropriate.

Keeping it real: Talking about BeReal with teens

Start by downloading the app and trying it out for yourself. You’ll find the user experience is quite different from the usual smooth one you get with other apps like Instagram.

“I’ll be very real here, and say I was confused from the get-go,” Moise says. The slimmed-down features make getting around a little tricky at first. But the overall experience is a good, slow introduction to social media for teens, she says.

“We’ve been conditioned to put our best self online,” Moise says. With BeReal, that’s not the priority. Scrolling through a feed of photos from friends just being in the moment—instead of sharing hypercurated photos—could help teens see themselves in a more realistic light.

Mental health issues start when a young person sees their appearance in a way that’s not realistic, Moise says. “Your confidence grows with your ability to see yourself in other people. When you add filters and unrealistic body expectations—kids don’t understand that no one looks like that. Flawless doesn’t exist,” she says. If a teen doesn’t see people like them, it can chip away at their self-esteem and self-expression. They can start to think “no one looks like me.”

Erica Cooper is a parent to five children, their ages ranging from 20 to 15-year old twins. Their family only recently started using the app and is keeping the sharing among family and friends.

“I like that it’s authentic,” Cooper says. “I like seeing the raw intake of where people are and what they’re doing and how they express that.”

And her 17-year-old daughter Orli Cooper agrees.

“I like the mission statement of BeReal,” Orli Cooper says. On other platforms, it can feel like people are trying to post perfect pictures that don’t reflect their own lives, but instead, try to live up to the expectations of what other people post, Orli Cooper says. “Which just creates a bunch of negativities.”

As with any social media app, it’s also important to watch if a teen seems overly anxious about missing out on a chance to post when the notification happens. And parents should note that the more a teen uses BeReal, the more features get unlocked.

It there’s a teen in your house asking about BeReal, here are a few things to consider:

  • Try it yourself first. Once you’re comfortable with it, decide whether it’s appropriate for your teen.

  • If it’s your teen’s first social media app, consider trying it out with limits, such as only using the app on the weekends.

  • Set boundaries, such as no social media until after school, homework and chores are done.

  • If you use a parental control app like Smart Family, you can enforce those boundaries by checking the app’s activity on the list of active apps in the dashboard.

  • Set your teen’s phone to “School Mode” during the day so they won’t get notifications at school. They can always post later, even if the app doesn’t make that obvious at first.

  • If they’re using it in a good rhythm and don’t seem anxious about missing a post, consider stretching the use to anytime after school.

  • The more someone uses the app, the more features are unlocked, so plan to have ongoing conversations about how your teen is using the app.

In a world where many social media apps are tied to teen stress and even mental health issues, the approach of BeReal is a welcome addition. By understanding BeReal’s unique approach and having open conversations, parents can navigate this new social media landscape with their teens and ensure a positive and mindful online experience—one that’s rooted in reality.

Have real conversations about what they’re doing online by using parental controls—like Verizon Smart Family.

By Bury