While these self-help apps are not inherently dangerous, they can be misused by those struggling, especially if they are not seeking other forms of help. There are many trends prevalently tied to some of these apps (especially ones surrounding mental and physical wellbeing) that could be harmful for vulnerable children and young people.
If the self-help app uses AI (artificial intelligence) to communicate with the user, the impersonal reactions could make a young person feel even more isolated or misunderstood. Peer support might also end up encouraging further harmful behaviour through triggering comments or progress comparison (e.g. One user has reached their ‘goal weight’ faster than another, even though they are doing the exact same things. This could make the user feel worse about themselves and hopeless to ever reaching their target).
Toxic positivity (the dismissal of negative feelings) and toxic productivity (an unhealthy desire to be productive at all times) are common themes that many of these apps and their users employ to try and be ‘encouraging’. If a child is having a difficult or busy day that does not allow them to accomplish their ‘goal’, they may receive a multiple push notifications to remind them to finish (e.g. You’ve only completed 75% of your step goal for the day! Don’t give up!) or receive a ‘red mark’ or ‘missed day’ penalty in the app itself. While this is done to try and motivate, it could cause a spiralling moment if there are more serious mental or physical issues at play. It could also lead to a reliance on the app, a fixation on continuous ‘self-improvement’, and even unrealistic goals being set.