Is that new app OK for my kids? | Featured News Story

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For most parents, when we find an app that works, we generally stick with it until something changes. Our kids, however, hop from one app to the next pretty quickly.

It could be a new app they’re using for school, or that invitation-only app going around their friend group. Some of these new apps may have some big issues, like sharing your kid’s personal information or slowing down the phone when it’s downloaded. These tips can help you quickly figure out if an app is appropriate and safe for your kids. Before you say OK, try running it through these five checks.

1. Check the app rating.

App stores have a recommended age rating for every app. Google Play Store uses the Entertainment Software Rating Board (here’s a quick primer on the ESRB ratings), and the Apple Store has its own rating system for apps.

Be sure to click the information icon next to the rating inside the app store as well. An app might be rated E for Everyone, but it could have a notice that “users interact” or that there is “user-generated content” inside the app. When there’s user-generated content or the ability to interact with other users, there could be inappropriate conversations or content on that application. To find notifications about the app’s rating, tap the information icon next to the rating inside the store.

Apple Store ratings:

  • Rated 4+: Contains no objectionable material.

  • Rated 9+: May contain content unsuitable for children under the age of 9.

  • Rated 12+: May contain content unsuitable for children under the age of 12.

ESRB ratings:

  • EC (Early Childhood): OK for kids ages 3 and under.

  • E (Everyone): Fine for all ages, but may have some cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence and may have some mild language.

  • E 10+ (Everyone 10+): Suitable for ages 10 and up, and they may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language, and suggestive themes.

  • T (Teen): For ages 13 and up and may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and infrequent use of strong language.

  • M (Mature): For ages 17 and up and may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and strong language.

  • AO (Adults Only): For ages 18 and up. They may include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and gambling with real currency.

  • RP (Rating Pending): Used for games that have been submitted to the ESRB but haven’t received a final rating yet.

2. Check the number of app downloads in the app store.

I set 100,000 downloads as a minimum threshold before I’ll download a new app. Why? Smaller numbers may simply mean there hasn’t been widespread adoption, but it could be that the developers previously removed it from the store due to bad reviews and uploaded it under a different name. It could also mean that the application is poorly written and could cause problems for the device.

3. Check the app reviews.

If the download number looks good, scan the app reviews. Users will let you know if the app slowed down their device, caused issues or has a bad user experience. Since the app developers can’t remove these reviews, they can be a good indication of how the app works. Consider too that the first several reviews will likely be friends or family of the app maker and may not be the most reliable source of information.

4. Check with other parents.

If the new app passes all these checks, ask other parents about it. Have they heard about the app? If so, are they letting their child use it? And what has their experience been with the app? Has it caused any issues? If there are any flags, steer clear.

5. Check out the app and set up your own profile.

The last step is to download the app for yourself and see how it works. Does it have any built-in parental controls? What kinds of things can you see in the app? Many social media apps have parental controls you can set on your child’s account through your own account, so it’s a good idea to set one up for yourself.

An example of the difference this can make: A parent made headlines this year when they downloaded a new app designed to help kids with their class schedules. The app didn’t ask the parent to verify whether he was a student at the school, and he could access full names, social media profiles and schedules of the students. Once the news got out, the app maker fixed the issues to help protect the privacy of its users. But without this parent looking into the application, there could have been some serious problems for the teens using the app.

If you find that a new app is safe for your child to use, talk with your kids about any concerns you found in your research. And talk about how you’ll work together to help them avoid those dangers, like setting up the built-in controls or using a monitoring app, like Smart Family.

Bonus idea: I love asking my kids to make a presentation about whether a new app they want to use is safe. I ask them to include the pros and cons of the application so I know they’ve researched both sides. When they see me being receptive to their perspective on this new app, they understand my final decision a little better.

Restrict and block apps from your kid’s phone with Smart Family.

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