Some lucky kids got new tech toys for Christmas — a tablet for the little ones to share, a first smartphone for the household teenager.
They’re delighted, no doubt. Their parents, however, might be wondering what digital disasters lie ahead. What are the ground rules? Which games are age-appropriate? How do you keep the kids from running up your credit card bill with app store purchases?
No need to panic. There are online resources to help families sort it all out.
Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that specializes in media, technology and families, recently released an updated list of “Essential Apps for Kids and Teens.” It includes dozens of recommended apps sorted for users ages 2 to 17. The picks vary from the TocaBoca family of games for younger children to Paper by FiftyThree, a sketching app, for teens.
The Common Sense site also offers guidelines for parents when talking to kids about tech use, as well as a user agreement that families can sign. It’s particularly important to have a discussion if teenagers are starting to use social media, said Polly Conway, apps editor for Common Sense Media.
“We never say, ‘Your kid shouldn’t have this app,’ ” Conway said. “It’s all about setting limits, really communicating with your kids and hopefully creating an environment where they will be honest with you.”
Other recommendations from the experts? Read privacy policies. Take the time to learn about the gadgets’ settings. Turn off in-app purchases. Also, don’t give kids the password needed for downloading new apps or other purchased items.
“It’s the same as giving them the credit card in the store,” said Sara Kloek, director of Moms With Apps, a group of independent developers focused on apps for kids.
The Moms With Apps website features nearly 1,300 apps, searchable by recommended age and other features, including the presence of advertising, user data collection and links to social networks. When Moms With Apps surveyed 400 parents, more than half said that finding the apps they wanted was moderately hard or very hard.
“[Parents] want to find apps that are age-appropriate and engaging and protect their kids’ privacy,” Kloek said.
In a world with millions of apps, it helps to have someone point parents — and kids — in the right direction.