The Latest App Your Teen is Using

Is your teen using the BeReal app? If so, you'll want to read this post for information on what it is and how it works.

BeReal: The Latest App Your Teen is Using

BeReal is now one of the most downloaded social media apps in the App Store. Between January 2021 and April 2022, BeReal’s daily active users went from 10,000 to 2.93 million. It’s growing particularly quickly among teens and young adults, so there’s a good chance your teen has heard of BeReal (and a very good chance they’re using it themselves). 

How does it work? 

On the app store, BeReal proclaims: “BeReal is your chance to show your friends who you really are, for once…BeReal won't make you famous. If you want to become an influencer you can stay on TikTok and Instagram.” In this way, BeReal is working hard to differentiate itself from the more filtered, posed content you typically see on Instagram and TikTok. 

Here’s how BeReal works. 

  • Once per day, you (along with all your friends) get a notification informing you that you have two minutes to take a photo. 
  • You take the photo, which captures images simultaneously with your phone’s front and back camera. Then you post it. 
  • If you’re late, the app notifies your friends that you just posted (along with how late you were). If you retake the photo, your friends can see that, too. 
  • Your friends comment on it and/or leave “RealMojis,” or small selfies of their faces reacting to your post. You can do the same for them. 
  • 24 hours later, it’s all gone - sort of - and you start over again. We say “sort of” because one of the key features of the app is that it stores your posts for you (only you can see them) in a digital archive. 

What Teens Say About BeReal

The teens we’ve talked to say that a big appeal of the app is that there are no edits allowed, which makes it feel more authentic. Because BeReal captures the front and back camera simultaneously, and because the app notifies your friends if you retake a photo, it feels “more real.” Some teens say it normalizes imperfection in a way that feels very different from the filtered photoshoots common on Instagram.

The promise of BeReal is that teens can be exactly who they are: imperfect, unedited, in-the-moment. But of course, as with many social media sites, it has downsides, too.

One college freshman told us that the app made her feel especially aware of moments when she was alone during her first year away at school. She would get the ping and realize that, yet again, she was just in her dorm room or not doing anything interesting. It was like the daily prompt at different times could reinforce her awareness and sense of loneliness. 

Another teen, an 11th grader, described a recent trend: intentionally late posts so that teens “wait” until they’re out with friends. In his view, this “defeats the purpose of the app.” It also underscores that even as apps try to create lower-stakes sharing, some teens still feel the stakes for presenting themselves in positive ways. 

Social Media Changes the Way We Act 

Any given social media platform has features that shape the way we interact. Instagram, for example, involves high levels of permanency (our posts stick around for awhile), publicness (we have a big audience), and asynchronicity (we can take our time posting). We act differently on social media than we do in person because of these features. When we have more time to think about what we say and do, we engage in more carefully curated posting, choosing certain details, photos, and text to present ourselves in a positive light.

We are always making choices about which aspects of ourselves to share—what details to divulge, what stories to tell, what questions to ask. And social media can raise the stakes.

BeReal is designed to encourage “authenticity” 

For teens who have grown up watching the adults in their lives curate flawless visions of family life on Facebook, the drive to appear authentic is a big deal. Listen to the lyrics of any popular song and it’s clear that to be “fake,” the opposite of authenticity, is a fate to be avoided at all costs. This has a developmental component. Adolescents become focused on who they really are and, relatedly, who their friends are. If teens aren’t being consistent–a difficult feat when you’re still figuring out who you are–they may get accused of being fake. 

Late last year, we saw TikTok influencers encouraging users to forgo Instagram’s filtered photo shoots and simply be themselves on Instagram. Suddenly “casual Instagram” (versus “performative Instagram”) became the ruling aesthetic among teens, complete with “photo dumps” (a group of seemingly random photos posted all at once) and blurry photos that convey I don’t even care enough about this to take a clear photo. 

Then came the backlash. Not only do we need to look good in our Instagram photos, users lamented, but now we need to pretend that we didn’t know (or care) the photo was being taken?!

And then, rising up from the ashes, here is BeReal, to pick up the broken pieces and make us real again. 

When we talked to teens about  authenticity on social media, and on BeReal in particular, they talked about how BeReal captures the moment. 

They also talked about the features of BeReal, a series of checks and balances the app implements to try and enforce its vision of authenticity: Simultaneous front and back camera (you can pose for a selfie, but you’re not gonna pose for that back camera), 2-minute timer (you don’t have time to figure out a pose…you’re not going to fix your hair, makeup, or whatever), no importing photos (you’re taking it in that moment), and a view into how many times the user retook their photo (so it tells you, is this authentic or not?). Still, some teens are embracing re-takes and late posts as they try to hack the app toward more favorable (and less authentic) self-presentations.  

A BeReal of Jackie writing about emojis for her email newsletter, Techno Sapiens.

We Tried It (So You Don’t Have To) 

We tried out BeReal for a few weeks. There were things we loved, and things we didn’t like so much. Seeing a friend in the midst of her child’s bedtime routine, or in the midst of a work call? It can be fun to catch a glimpse of these everyday moments, the ones that aren’t quite so filtered. 

But on the other hand, we worry about teens for whom the effects are less positive, those who still feel like they need to look picture perfect and yet real at the same time. 

For some teens, BeReal may feel like a relief. For others, it may just add to the pressure to present a certain image online.    

Bottom line: Ask your teens about BeReal

BeReal is increasing in popularity among teens. Ask your teen if they’re using it, and what their experience is like (“Are you on BeReal? What do you think of it?). Chances are, there are some things about the app they like, but some downsides they’ve noticed as well. Staying open to both sets the stage for open conversations that help build trust and communication. 

Whether or not they can truly “be real” online, it’s important they know that they can be with you.  


This blog is adapted from a post Jackie wrote for her email newsletter, Techno Sapiens. You can read the original and subscribe to Techno Sapiens here.