Dating apps. Rating apps.
Hook up apps. Anonymous messaging apps.
Sex position apps!
When you hand your child a phone, iPad, iPod touch, Kindle or other tablet you are opening them up to a world of apps. There are over one million apps available on the Apple App Store and over one million on Google Play for Android. New apps debut daily. Yes, there are many educational and child-friendly apps included in those millions, but just as many are not intended for a child or even teen audience.
In the last few weeks alone I’ve come across so many examples. Such as:
I was e-mailed a press release about an app called Hula. With Hula, you can “find a STD test center, get your results online, and share your verified STD status.” The press release described the SWSX (South by Southwest) festival in Austin, Texas as essentially a “hook up” destination and suggested using their app to help prevent getting an STD. Useful perhaps for young adults; but not for kids.
Anonymous sharing app Yik Yak has been getting a lot of press in recent weeks. Intended for college students on campus to share anonymous information and tips, it has also become popular with high school students. The app (or to be more specific, those using the app) wreaked havoc in cities from San Clemente, California to Marblehead, Massachusetts (and my hometown high school in Connecticut) after multiple incidents of cyberbullying and even bomb threats. The app makers have now made plans to shut down the app’s access at middle and high schools in the US.
Hot or Not is an app you can use to “Find out who is Hot around you. Check out how Hot you are!” Wow, sounds like a great choice for the fragile self-esteem of a teenager!
How should parents manage apps?
Do you let your children download apps on their own? Do they need to get your permission first? Do they have the password needed in order to install or do they have to come to you first? There is no one best answer to these questions, and as a parent you would certainly take into account their age and maturity level.
But regardless of age, in the world of apps I believe you just can’t hand over the device and be done with it. Guidelines and rules, discussions and possibly restrictions are part of the process. We talk a lot about “parenting in the digital age” but it simply comes down to parenting.
You’d probably be interested in what books and magazines your kids are reading, the video games they play, the movies and TV shows they watch. So it’s the same with apps. If you wouldn’t want your child watching a rated R movie, then you probably don’t want them using a 17+ rated app.
And while looking at the app’s rating is a good first step, it may not tell you everything you need to know. The app’s rating my not always be a good indicator of its appropriateness for your child. As an example, Facebook is rated 4+ in the app store. But you cannot join the service until you are thirteen! Obviously there is no need for 4-12 year-olds to download Facebook to a device. So don’t judge an app by rating alone.
Another factor to consider is that apps are quite different than books, TV and movies. Reading a book, or watching a TV show or movie are passive activities. Apps can be active and social. The apps that teens (and adults) gravitate towards are popular because of the social connections. Friending, liking, sharing, and commenting are part of the attraction. So in a way, the rating and guidelines for apps are even more important. Who is your child friending? What are they liking and sharing?
And I don’t think this is helicopter parenting; it’s just parenting. Restrictions and protections are the training wheels that help you while you teach your children how to navigate the digital landscape. Just like with riding a bike, once they are steady and ready you remove the wheels and let them try it out on their own. The timing is different for every child and family based on the child’s maturity level and age. I wouldn’t suggest sending a child off to college with parental controls enabled on their phone. But the steps you take now at the younger ages will help them get to the point when they are ready to make good decisions on their own. To me, that’s my main job as a parent.
Here are a few steps you can take when it comes to apps
For all ages
- Discuss expectations in advance before you hand over the phone/device.
- Enact a technology or media agreement /contract.
- Restrict app download by rating (especially for those rated 17+) depending on child’s age. Keep in mind that some rated 12+ might not be appropriate though; the “Hot or Not” app mentioned earlier has a 12+ rating for “Infrequent/Mild Sexual Content and Nudity; Infrequent/Mild Mature/Suggestive Themes”
For younger children
- Disable the ability to install new apps using Restrictions. (Then you can un-restrict when it’s time to install a new app).
- Become the “keeper” of the password required to install new apps.
For older teens
- Spot-check devices and discuss new apps with your teen.
- For those who want to know about new apps without having to extract the device from a teen’s firm grip, you can try an app monitoring service. Many of the parental control tools I’ve listed here offer app monitoring such as CoPilot Family, Mobicip, and NetSanity. You can also log in to iTunes with your child’s Apple ID and password, to review purchases which will include paid and free apps.
Choose any of these actions that seem appropriate to you based on your child and parenting style. But do something; doing nothing is NOT an option!
How to Find Age Appropriate Apps
Keep checking back here on Be Web Smart! I write about apps to look out for and good alternatives.
Other great resources are: