Got a new Android phone? That’s great! Got kids begging to play with it? Bad news: you’re going to have to share.
But first, you need some good kids’ apps. Forget slogging through the entire internet — we can help.
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Chances are your kids are already using lots of media. And chances are you haven’t yet found time to explicitly outline your online expectations of what they are and aren’t allowed to do, in writing.
When we got our child her first smartphone, we wrote and signed the following family media agreement. Our goal was to create a flexible agreement that didn’t get bogged down in the details, and I think we did a pretty good job. Feel free to copy and paste it into an agreement of your own and customize it for your kids.
We were most concerned about computer and smartphone use, but it could easily be tweaked to encompass television and video game usage too.
I am never allowed to give out personal information (phone number, home address, or school name) or make plans to meet anyone I do not know in the real world.
I will unfriend, block, and/or stop talking to anyone who makes me feel pressured or uncomfortable. I will tell my parents if someone is persistently bothering me.
I will never use my phone while riding my bike, crossing the street, or walking through a parking lot.
I will be respectful to myself and others, even people I don’t like. I won’t be cruel online and I won’t tolerate, “like”, or otherwise encourage cruelty in others.
I will be a good online friend. I will respect other people’s privacy and feelings when posting photos or other content about them.
I will tell my parents immediately if anyone I know seems to be in trouble or in need of help, even people I don’t know well or like.
I understand that the photos and videos I post, and everything I write about myself and other people online can be saved and shared without my knowledge. Therefore, I will not post anything online that I wouldn’t want my family, teachers, college admissions officers, or future employers to see.
I will protect my passwords so people cannot pose and post as me. I will never pose as or post as anyone else.
I’ll be careful not to spend too much time online. I won’t let it interfere with sleep, schoolwork, hobbies, and my offline relationships with my friends and family.
I will not use my phone or computer recreationally after 9pm at night. I understand that if I cannot respect this rule, my parents will hold my devices overnight.
In social situations, I will make conversation and pay attention, even when I am uncomfortable. I understand that it is rude to look at my devices when others are talking, especially family friends, grandparents, teachers, coaches and employers.
I understand that my computer and phone belong to my parents, who trust my judgment and respect my privacy. However, if they are ever worried about my safety, I promise to answer their questions calmly and honestly. I understand that this family media agreement is subject to revision at my parents’ discretion.
Most parents — myself included — aren’t willing to delegate their child’s safety to a handheld electronic device. We’re more focused on the risks smartphones bring than the ways they can make our kids safer. Still, there are a handful of apps that can give parents some peace of mind.
No matter how much trust and independence play a part of your parenting style, here are five apps that can keep kids a little safer both online and off:
1. LIFE 360
Keeps kids safe from: Endless parent check-ins
Keeps parents safe from: Worrying
This location-sharing app for iPhone and Android users allows families to create circles with private maps, messaging, and check-ins. If you’re the kind of parent who finds yourself texting your kids, “Did you make it?”, this is the app for you. Whenever someone in your circle leaves a zone (like school) and arrives at a zone (like home), you’ll get a notification.
Two warnings: 1) if you’re thinking of using this app to keep teens in line, you should know that they can uninstall and therefore outsmart it — it’s not really meant for that, and 2) the maps include the locations and pictures of registered sex offenders (this information isn’t reliably correct and up-to-date, but it is always alarming).
2. ANTI-SOCIAL (FOR MAC AND WINDOWS)
Keeps kids safe from: Time suck websites
Keeps parents safe from: Nagging
You know when your teen is trying to get homework done, but ends up wasting time on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Vine, Pinterest, Instagram, TMZ, and so on? Download a free trial of Anti-social, and block websites that prove distracting during certain hours. If you like it, subscribe. Who knows, you might decide to try it for yourself.
If you really, really, really need to use Facebook while it’s disabled for some reason, you can get around the block by re-booting your computer.
3. ZACT CONTROL
Keeps kids safe from: Late night texting
Keeps parents safe from: Grouchy, tired kids
Zact is an iPhone and Android app that lets parents monitor (and budget, and top off) their kids cell phone usage, set curfews, permit or restrict contacts, and approve or block apps. Not everyone needs that level of micromanagement, of course, and many people object to it. The killer feature is setting curfews. Don’t want your kid to be able to send and receive texts between 9pm and 7am on school nights? That functionality is just a finger tap away.
A word of warning: my high school student often needs to get in touch with project partners later at night than I would like, so don’t set the curfew too early.
4. MOBICIP SAFE BROWSER WITH PARENTAL CONTROLS
Keeps kids safe from: “Accidentally” viewing something inappropriate
Keeps parents safe from: Worrying
Don’t think you need web safe browsing? Consider this. According to a 2008 study in CyberPsychology & Behavior, 93% of boys and 62% of girls have seen internet porn before they turn 18 (or so says Nancy Jo Sales in her Vanity Fair article, Friends Without Benefits). Will installing a web browser with parental controls completely circumvent this? Of course not. Will it delay it? I think so.
You can filter based on age, and comprehensive reporting means you can monitor your child’s web browsing history (and use it to have important conversations about what is and isn’t okay).
Amazing Ants is a basic platform game where you guide your ants through a puzzle landscape collecting fruit.
Kids will like the cute sound effects and innocent comic book-style graphics, and parents will like the low-stress problem solving dynamic.
Why we like it:
This is a very scalable app that adds skills one at a time. First the ants just walk, then they jump, climb, fly, and float…once your child has mastered the previous skill. Levels can be replayed to practice skills, and this also helps you rack up more coins (which can be spent on “unlockable extras”, like stylized ants and hints).
Watch out for:
In-app purchases are just a fact of life with these freemium games. Level packs… Ants in costume… there are a lot of temptations for players old and young. Turn off in-app purchases if this bothers you.
Also, ads spring up more often than we’d like. Often — but not always — in-between levels, you’ll see a “And now a word from our sponsor!” message.