SEOUL, May 6 (UPI) -- A South Korean developer has come to the rescue of lonely teenagers with an "imaginary friend" app that they can use to have comforting conversations.
South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported South Korean adolescents who find it hard to share their feelings are using the smartphone app when they're feeling down -- holding conversations with a computer program that can seem like a real friend.
One 16-year-old student with the surname Kwon said she texts her imaginary friend when she's feeling sad.
If she sends a message, the "friend" replies right away with questions like, "How come? Is everything OK?" and other words that could be comforting to the recipient.
Kwon said she holds text conversations like these several times a day. She can also decide the name of her virtual companion, and choose a photo of him or her to go along with a customizable profile.
The app developer, 46-year-old Jang Tae-gwan, said his company has tracked four million downloads since its launch, and that 70 to 80 percent of users are those in their teens.
"It's becoming trendy among teens to have a 'fake friend' when they have no real friends or cannot find a source of comfort," he said.
The app is programmed to give long messages of consolation in response to the words "lonely" or "depressed."
According to Seoul National University's Institute for Social Development and Policy Research, 58.2 percent of South Korean middle school students were insecure about friendships, and one in five are at peril of becoming social outcasts.
The Telegraph reported South Korea's Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said close to one-third of teenagers are stressed about school and a further 26 percent were worried about employment prospects.
In April South Korea also released a survey that indicated suicide has become the No. 1 cause of death among teenagers.