What are dangerous apps for kids? Quick tips to find out.
Is that app safe for my kid? Learn how to quickly determine if an app is kid-friendly and how parents can protect their kids from potentially dangerous apps.
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One of the toughest aspects of being a parent is coming to grips with the fact that you have to let go at some point. In the literal sense, that could mean letting go of the back of the bike seat in that first ride without training wheels. In the figurative sense, it’s giving your kids a little freedom and flexibility to enjoy everything the internet has to offer—within reason, of course.
When it comes to apps and kids using them safely, parents may need the training wheels. For example, a recent report showed that 1 in 5 apps in a popular app store don’t adhere to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
Whether it’s an app to boost mental and physical health, such as a meditation app, or something to simply have some fun with, parents can do a quick safety check on an app their kids want to use to decide if it’s right for them. So this article is a guide for parents on how to check if that app is one of the more dangerous apps for kids, how to assess if the one your child recently downloaded is a kid-friendly app, as well as tips for developing an open dialogue with kids on app safety.
Step 1: Is it on the list of apps for parents to be aware of?
My 10-year-old son Colton is a lot like most kids his age—obsessed with screens. Sure, he loves playing basketball and running roughshod throughout the neighborhood with his buddies, but his screen time is definitely something we have to keep a pulse on. The thought of dangerous apps for kids wasn’t something we had thought much about until lately, when his screen of choice started shifting from the television to a tablet. My wife and I had little knowledge on apps for parents to be aware of, so we knew we had to do some research.
In reading up on the worst apps for kids, we found there were some apps we were already familiar with—social media apps and live-streaming and video chat apps, to name a few—but others were completely foreign to us. Neither of us ever used dating apps or those supporting multiplayer games, though both categories seemed more likely to contain some dangerous apps for tweens or teens.
We also learned that the platforms we thought were the most innocent were among the worst apps for kids. Colton has never shown an interest in any of the dangerous apps for kids, but the thought of our son using them is enough to send shivers down our spines. So, when in doubt check it out, or better yet, just always check it out.
Step 2: How you can protect your kid from dangerous apps
Even if it makes the list of approved apps for kids, or if the app is too new to be reviewed, you can also check to ensure that your kid is using it safely. A good strategy to start with is to pay close attention to the app permission settings. Each app will have settings granting access to certain functions on the device that you’ll want to review:
Does the app give access to your device’s camera or video settings?
Does it give access to photos?
Does it ask for access to contacts in your phone?
Prior to your child using the app, you’ll want to review the settings and turn off any permissions that give you pause.
In addition to customizing the app permission settings, read the app description, study reviews, and do a little research of your own before handing the reins over to your child.
Step 3: Consider a parental control app, such as Verizon Smart Family
Parental control apps give parents the ability to monitor how our kids are using their devices, automatically block objectionable content, as well as other tools to help keep kids safe. My wife and I found the Smart Family app super easy to use, and it provided that added layer of comfort we were desperately seeking.
Parent tip: Install a parent content filter and monitoring app, such as Smart Family, which allows you to see your child’s app and internet activity from the dashboard on your phone. You can also set up content filters to block websites and apps in a variety of content categories, such as filtering out content with violence or foul language.
Step 4: Talk to your child about internet safety
We were all kids once, and while a lot of things have changed in the years since I was a 10-year-old like my son Colton, the one thing that still runs rampant is peer pressure. No matter how good your kids are, odds are that someone, somewhere, at some time, is going to influence them to do something you simply wouldn’t approve of. And in today’s current landscape, that something could involve one of the many dangerous apps for kids out there.
You can’t be with your kids all the time, which is why making the most of the time you have together and talking to your child about internet safety and kid-friendly apps are in both of your best interests.
Can we talk about that app?
The most important strategy in digital parenting today is to let your kids know they can come to you about anything they find online. So start with the common ground. Begin the conversation with your child by asking which apps they currently use or want to use, and gauge their existing knowledge on internet safety for kids. Ask questions and listen to their response: What would they do if someone asked for personal information online? What would their response be if a stranger asked them to meet up in real time? One of the most pressing concerns related to social media safety for kids is cyberbullying, so it’s vital you remind your child that you’re always available to talk should the need arise. If needed, you can also brush up on your own digital safety and devices using this guide.
Some experts suggest drafting a contract that both you and your child sign to lay out expectations and set some ground rules around only using safe apps for kids that have been vetted and approved. That’s the route I took with Colton. He got a kick out of signing his first official contract—but not before having his counsel (that’s Mom, for the record) sign off on the terms of the deal.
Parent tip: Talk together about the apps they’re using and why. Establish a plan to discover what they need from you to feel safe if they find something problematic. Then, consider signing an agreement together about your expectations for using safe apps. The Family Online Safety Institute has a good one for starters.
We recognize that there will be a day that he (and his little sister!) will outgrow child-friendly apps, but for now, we’re not quite ready to let go completely. Until that time comes, we feel like the guardrails we’ve put in place have left us in a pretty good spot. That is, until middle school starts in a year …
Ask around. Do other parents use the app? Ask your friend group if they have any experience with the app and whether they felt it was a good experience for their kid.
Check the app reviews in the app store. You’ll see a variety of reviews from different people, but you should get a general sense from these comments about whether it’s safe for kids.
Download the app and try it out for yourself. Look through the app’s parental controls. Can you disable chat features and the microphone or camera? Some gaming apps even offer specific content filtering to avoid things like violence and foul language.
Keep an open mind. Ideally, any app that your kid downloads will nurture their curiosity and inspire more learning off-line. If you find that an app doesn’t feel right, consider another, more child-appropriate app that does the same thing, with more parental controls.
Smart Family helps you see what apps your kids are using, so you can talk together about how to stay safe online.