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Smart Rules of Thumb for Children's App Use

The mobile app market has exploded, and there are thousands of apps for kids. Get advice on age-appropriate and educational apps, and app and smartphone safety.
Rules of Thumb on Children's App Use
By: Erin Dower

It goes without saying that smartphones and apps have become an integral part of our everyday lives. But what about our children's lives? At what age is it okay to let your kids start using smartphones? Which apps are safe and which are not?

We've done some investigating to help you navigate the tricky world of smartphones, tablets and app use.

The Right Age for Apps

In 2016, TechCrunch reported that the average age for kids to get a smartphone was 10.3 years. For a social media account, the average age was 11.4.

That same year, the American Academy of Pediatrics released guidelines on children's smartphone, app and digital media use. While they recognize that digital media can play a part in children's development as young as 18 months, they recommend an emphasis on creative, unplugged play for babies and toddlers, and a balance of screen time and other activities for older children.

“What’s most important is that parents be their child’s ‘media mentor.’ That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn,” the AAP has said.

You can find a few apps on the market with a recommended age as young as 6 months, such as MiniPiano (a simple 14-note keyboard app). There are thousands of apps that start at the age 2 or 3 range, including the PJ Masks Time to Be a Hero, a popular series that teaches kids important social skills, such as sharing and taking turns.

The recommended age range for a particular app comes from the developer, but you are the best judge of whether apps are appropriate for your child.

App Safety

There are a number of things to keep in mind once you do decide to let you child have access to the digital world. Here is a handy checklist:

  • Teach your child never to give out his name or contact information. Help him set up security blocks on his Facebook page, and tell him to let you know if he is being bothered or cyberbullied by anyone.
  • Create a parent-child online and app use agreement. Decide on a time limit, and keep tabs on the apps your child uses. You might even want to consider a parental-control app. They allow you to block the purchase of adult content apps and set time limits.
  • Consider setting up an "app allowance" to limit how many your kids download every month.That way they don't get too app happy, draining your data and your wallet.
  • Consider health issues related to app use, like eye strain and fatigue, hearing loss from headphones and lack of sleep from using phones in their bedroom at night.

Finding the Right App

There are thousands of apps for children, and new ones pop up every day. You'll find options for your artsy child, your math wiz, and your little guy who is learning the alphabet. Check out these recommended apps for preschoolers and 21 free educational apps for kids for a sampling.

Some other good resources for children's app reviews include:

  • This nonprofit site offers reviews and advice on age-appropriate apps for kids.
  • This website for the nonprofit I Education Apps Review offers teacher and student reviews of educational apps.
  • This site provides descriptions and ratings for apps by age and category.
  • You can search YouTube for video reviews of the apps you're interested in.

Test out any apps before your child to check that the tasks are challenging but doable and the content is engaging but not over-stimulating, scary, violent or vulgar. Go over the app or game with your child to help him learn the goal, the strategy and the rules.

Apps are a great way for kids to learn and interact with their favorite stories and characters. But, like everything in life, apps should be used in moderation. Keep these guidelines in mind, and make a plan that's right for you and your child.

For more app resources, check out

21 Free Educational Apps for Kids

The Best Educational Apps for Kids of All Ages

AAP Says Interactive Screen Time for Kids Can Be Healthy

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