In our app-driven world, children are spending far more time than ever before, exploring the world through their devices. But, not all apps are created equal, and some can lead our children into dangerous territories. I’ll help you spot the right kind of educational and entertainment apps, and the type of app your child should steer clear of. Mixing educational and entertaining apps is key, but avoiding the types of apps that demand too much of, or expose children to unsuitable content, is vital.
How to find good games and apps for young kids.
Finding the right kind of educational or entertaining app for your child is easy to do, once you apply the 3 Es. A good app is:
- Engaging: It’s not just another game, it’s an opportunity for your child to learn while they play.
- Educational: Even though it is built to entertain, there should be a level of educational content or motivation behind it.
- Expertly developed and approved: The best apps for children are designed with children in mind, and these are often listed or featured on reliable parenting sites and forums.
Alternatively, a bad app is:
- Invasive: These apps ask for too much personal information, that is often unnecessary for operation.
- Intrusive: These apps demand the sharing of location-related information, or force children to connect with others they may not know in the real world.
- Distracting: These apps include too many distracting advertisements and flashing content that detracts from the app’s primary purpose or screen.
Avoiding the peer pressure apps
The advent of social media channels has propelled children towards sharing their personal lives more frequently and openly online. Many of these social media apps promote and support the sharing of location-based information. Unfortunately, many social media apps have become easy portals to unsuitable content, unscrupulous individuals, and unfortunate circumstances. While not all social media apps should be considered ‘bad’, it is imperative to teach your child the all-important rules around sharing information online. Notably too, monitoring your child’s online activities is important, as this enables you to block inappropriate content, supervise the types of messages your child sends and receives, and keep an eye on who they’re in contact with. Most social media apps have an age restriction. These exist for good reason, and it’s important to stick to the rules on this one, or else your child’s account may be shut down by the service provider. For ease of reference, the following age restrictions apply to these popular social media channels, although they may be even higher in certain regions of the world:
- Facebook: Facebook requires users to be 13 years old, or older, in order to create an account.
- Twitter: Twitter also requires users to be at least 13 years old, before they can create an account.
- Instagram: Also owned by Facebook, Instagram requires users to be at least 13 years old before they can open an account.
- WhatsApp: Although WhatsApp’s age restriction in the EU is 16 years old, it is listed as 13 years old in other parts of the world.
- TikTok: Users must be over the age of 13 to start and use an account on this popular service, formerly known as Musical.ly.
What to do about unsuitable content
Of course, the best way to protect your child from viewing or accessing unsuitable content, is to block it entirely. Monitoring apps, like Qustodio and Net Nanny, can help you to do this with ease. There are other ways too: find the apps most likely to promote the sharing of unsuitable content, and ensure your child doesn’t install them, or interact on any of the platforms. This may seem like a restrictive approach, but it may be the most suitable one, depending on your family circumstances, approach, and individual child. If your child does come across unsuitable content, such as pornography or explicit sexual content, ensure that they know what to do. Ensure they:
- Know to inform you first.
- Know how to block people on particular platforms.
- Have learnt how to report unsuitable content on each platform they’re active on.
Note: Having firmly established rules around the installation of apps is important. If you’d prefer that your child check with you before installing an app, make this a firmly established rule around device usage for your family. If an app is installed that you haven’t given permission for, or that you haven’t been able to check for its suitability, you may want to consider this is a disciplinary issue, and take appropriate action.
Switching off location services
Finding a new friend’s house for a playdate is a little easier nowadays, thanks to GPS technologies. But, location-based services aren’t always good. Apps that enforce the sharing of location-based information, for any purpose other than navigation, should be avoided. Avoid these types of apps, and turn off location settings on your child’s devices, unless absolutely required.
The good apps
There are great educational apps, and awful ones, just as there are excellent entertainment apps, and terrible ones too. For children, entertainment and education are often intertwined, so aim for good apps that aren’t just another mindless game. Find the apps that include some element of educational content or motivation behind them. For example, DragonBox, a range of game-based Maths apps, are great for entertaining and educating, all at the same time. Educational apps that put education front and centre often include an element of entertainment or engaging content that help embed the primary lessons included in the app. Many of these apps are directly linked to classroom activities or curricula, so check with your child’s teacher if there are any they recommend for supporting your child’s education. Good apps are expertly designed and expert-approved. Reputable app development studios invest time and energy into creating good content for children, very often with the assistance of educational institutions.
How to find the good apps
Finding expert reviews on good apps is relatively simple nowadays. I’d recommend the following excellent online resources:
- Common Sense Media: It’s a parent’s best friend in our digital world, and includes user reviews, synopses, and helpful guides for parents.
- Kids In Mind: Specifically created for movies, Kids-In-Mind gives you the real deal about film content, including previews and ratings for all types of content.
- Plugged In: Reviewing games, books, TV series, and movies, Plugged In is great for the parents of gaming-obsessed kids, in particular.
The bad apps
Avoiding the bad apps is important, but being able to spot them before they’re installed is even more important. Invasive apps ask for too much personal information, that is often unnecessary for the app to operate effectively. In particular, where a social component forms part of the app’s function, children should be taught caution around sharing personal information with people they do not know. An intrusive app may demand that the child share their location, or turn on location-based settings. This is, for the most part, unnecessary for educational apps, and should be discouraged unless absolutely necessary. Apps filled with too many distractions detract from its primary purpose, and often obscure your child’s playing experience. Flashing advertisements, or similar content, can obstruct your child’s experience. Very often, opting for the paid version of an app can help to remove advertising entirely, so consider that the next time you’re asked to pay for an app. The difference between a free and paid version of a mobile app can be quite distinct, so it may be worth paying for it.