When choosing apps for children, it is important for parents to do their own research. Fortunately there are a number of excellent app review sites available to help.
Check reviews of Apps first
Commonsense Media is a US-based non-profit organization that provides advice to families and educators to promote safe technology and media for children. It provides comprehensive lists of apps rated and tagged with appropriate ages and concerns.
The Book Chook website, maintained by Australian writer, editor, educator and reviewer, Susan Stephenson, contains an extensive library of app reviews. You can find a round-up of her January – March 2015 App reviews here.
Or you can search for web for lists such as the Guardian’s Best Ipad apps for Kids of 2014
Disclaimer: The information below relates to apps for children of primary school age and younger. It does not relate to social media and chat applications which are age restricted to teens and above which will be the subject of a second article. In the interim, for a comprehensive review of Teen social media apps and issues for parents see 15 Apps and Websites Kids Are Heading to After Facebook (Commonsense Media, April 2015)
Essential information about downloading apps
Here are some points to keep in mind when choosing an app or reading an app review:
- Never, ever share your Apple Itunes or Google Playstore password with your child
This should be self-evident but sometimes shortcuts are taken to save time, especially with older primary school children. Don’t take this shortcut.
- Assume an active role
According to a survey of parents of children 5 -11 years by Internet Matters (an independent, non-profit organisation to help parents keep their children safe on-line), 29% of parents allow their children to download apps without their permission.
Parents need to be aware of what apps their children are downloading and familiarise themselves with the app content.
An alternative is to disable iTunes/Playstore and disable Installing and Deleting apps.
- Consider what “free” really means for a specific app
For some apps, the free functionality is limited and simply designed to encourage the purchase of a paid version. Many free apps contain in-app purchases.
- Beware in-app purchases
Many in-app purchases are structured so they do not appear to be a purchase at all. In-app purchases should be turned off on devices used by children. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission provides step-by-step instructions on how to turn off in-app purchases on Apple and Android devices.
It might be preferable to pay for an app that does not have in-app purchases.
- Don’t judge an app by its “cover” or title
Innocent sounding apps may contain inappropriate material.
- Be aware of multiplayer options
Some app multiplayer options allow children to connect with people they don’t know.
- Know what an app connects to
Some apps connect to social media. The puzzle game Angry Birds connects to the Crystal Network, an online gaming community that’s linked to Facebook and Twitter. (Commonsense Media review of Angry Birds)
- Review the recommended age rating
These are determined by the developer of the app and may not agree with the levelling of a parent or educator
- Consider what information the app collects
Some apps share location information which can be particularly dangerous for a child
59% of apps send information about the user and the device to a third party (UK Study, Zero to Eight: Young children and their internet use, D. Holloway, L. Green and S. Livingstone, EU Kids Online network, , August 2013)
Finally, involve your child in creating rules around App use, as with any other digital technology. Establish guidelines for time spent, money spent and appropriate content.
Sandy Fussell is mum to two digital natives. She works as an IT Consultant and is an award-winning author of books for young people. You can find her at www.sandyfussell.com and www.samuraikids.com.au