Technology is easier to access now than ever before, but not all apps are created equal. In the interest of student safety, privacy and cybersecurity and providing a beneficial learning environment, it’s important to evaluate each app before downloading it.
Here are seven important questions to ask yourself before downloading a new app for your kids to use.
Question #1: Is It Age-Appropriate?
Just like any other form of media, apps are developed for a wide range of audiences. Watch out for apps that say they are intended for children ages 13 and up. This is the equivalent of a PG-13 movie, so there may be language and content that is inappropriate for your children if they are younger. Many apps post specific age ranges (e.g., ages 5-8, ages 3 and up) within the app store. Find one that matches your child’s.
Question #2: How will this app benefit my child?
There are many apps out there with specific educational goals, and some of them might even be used in your child’s classroom. This is great because those apps are likely pre-vetted for academic usefulness. At home, you have to do the vetting on your own. Before downloading, check to see that it targets a useful skill, such as critical thinking, reading skills or mathematical fluency.
Avoid those apps designed simply to engage your child in mindless playing that does not stretch their thinking. Many take up a lot of time, so make sure you’re picking one that uses that time in a valuable way. They can still be fun and engaging for your kids!
Question #3: What Are the Privacy Settings?
Make sure that any app you download allows you to protect your information. There should be a setting within the app that you can turn to the “private” mode. Usually, you can find this information within the app store before purchase.
Using apps’ privacy features is incredibly important, as you don’t want your child’s device to accidentally reveal more information than is necessary or appropriate.
Question #4: Can Strangers Contact My Child?
Along the same lines as privacy settings, make sure that strangers and unknown users cannot contact your child through an app before downloading. Some games have children play against other users, and this can be fine as long as that’s the only communication they have. Apps, especially for young children, should not involve interaction with strangers!
Check the settings and the description in the store. If there’s a messenger or a live chat component, make sure these settings are turned off. If they cannot be turned off, it may be worth reevaluating whether the app is appropriate.
Question #5: How Will Your Child Access the App?
Make sure your child cannot get into the app in a way you’re not aware of, like with a password that you don’t know. If you purchased the phone and the app, you have the right to access them. This will help you monitor your child’s app usage and make sure they are being safe. Check in on your devices regularly to ensure they’re being used in a manner that makes sense for your child.
Question #6: What Will I Do if This App Turns Out to Be a Fraud?
Before you download an app, think about what you’ll do if it turns out to be something you didn’t expect. Sometimes, apps that look helpful on the surface turn out to be scams.
It’s probably best to explain to your child ahead of time that some apps aren’t what they seem and that when this happens, they need to be deleted. Giving your child this information ahead of time might prevent a meltdown if the app does turn out to be a fraud. You can even turn it into a game by teaching your child what a “good” app looks like. After evaluating it yourself, if it’s appropriate, you can allow your child to evaluate the app as well. This allows them to be more invested in the final decision to keep or delete it.
Question #7: What Do the Reviews Say?
Are there reviews? Most apps are widely reviewed right there in the app store, so you can evaluate them before you make a download decision. Take the time to read both the positive and negative reviews to see the best and worst qualities of the app. Take care to look for warning signs like safety or privacy issues.
Cybersecurity and privacy can feel overwhelming, but they don’t have to be. It’s a simple matter of asking yourself a few quick questions before purchase to make sure you’re providing a safe, educational experience for your child.
About the Author
Lemi-Ola Erinkitola is an author, award-winning educator and busy mom with a passion for empowering parents and their children with tools and resources needed to build healthy cyber safety habits. As the founder of The Critical Thinking Child LLC, she provides parent coaching and fosters a lifetime love of learning in students, paving the way to academic success from an early age.
Erinkitola encourages parents to tap into their child’s learning styles and help them think critically in a modern world. Her brain training boot camp program was featured on ABC News and teaches young children how to protect themselves against online predators.