While experts are busy debating whether toddlers should use apps at all, toddlers are busy taking matters (not to mention phones and tablets) into their own sticky hands.
The best apps for toddlers entertain while encouraging creativity. Unsurprisingly most feature plenty of colors, shapes, numbers and letters too.
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).
We’re very happy to present our first annual holiday gift guide for gadget-loving kids. It’s chock full of tech-y goodness and there isn’t a thing on it that we wouldn’t love to see under our own tree! There’s something here for every person on your list, not to mention every budget.
Tired of holding your breath every time you hand your iPad to your toddler? Why not get him a kid-friendly tablet that’s a little sturdier? We like the Nabi 2, but we’ve got other recommendations too.
Sure, it’s fun to play on a phone or tablet, but if you’ve got a group of people, you can’t do better than the Nintendo Wii. Even very young kids can get in on the action… dancing… bowling… beating their parents at doubles tennis.
Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s time to pick up a copy of Just Dance Kids (trust me on this).
Read more about the Wii with Wii Sports Resort.
No matter how much you need silence or cooperation, it is never a good idea to hand a very young child your camera or phone.
Even in a padded room full of marshmallows and feather duvets, kids can find a way to bork our expensive devices (trust me, I speak from personal experience here). There are many cameras designed just for the short set, this one is by far the best of the bunch.
Read more about the Fisher-Price Kid-Tough See Yourself Camera.
It is an axiom of technology gift-giving that once you have a smartphone, you no longer need an iPhone touch. Unfortunately, it is also true that most very young children (1st and 2nd graders for sure, and probably 3rd through 5th too) don’t yet need phones.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Yes, the iPod Touch continues to be one of the most coveted devices of all time. If you’ve got a grandparent who is dying to splurge, this is the idea I’d recommend passing along.
Read more about the iPod Touch.
Any time you take a regular activity and add tech, kids like it. For example: I have a “learn the states and capitals” app for my iPad. Guess how long it took my 5th grader to master the subject? That’s right. About 10 minutes. Which is why the Boogie Board (basically an LCD chalkboard) is so fun for kids. Plus, there’s the eco-angle… drawing without wasting paper!
Don’t like pink? Don’t worry. It comes in five other crave-able colors too.
Want to save your kids’ masterpieces? Take a digital photo!
Read more about the Boogie Board 8.5-Inch LCD Writing Tablet.
Okay, this is really a gift for you. Forget peace on earth, give yourself peace of mind! You’re a parent, so of course you worry about everything. Now you can check hearing loss off that list.
Protect those sweet little ears while protecting yourself from hours and hours of listening to those laughing pigs in Angry Birds. You can thank us later.
Now if we could only get our teenagers to use these.
Read more about the Kidz Gear Wired Headphones.
As much as we love all things Apple around here, we do NOT love buying music. We especially do not love buying music for kids, because their tastes change so much from day to day (and thank God for that, see also: Carly Rae Jepsen).
We got our kids Sonos wireless music players and a family Rhapsody account instead. With the magic of the internet, we can play any music we want. And when we outgrow it? We can move on. It’s like renting vs. owning.
Read more about the Sonos PLAY:3.
A stylish, retro camera (not to mention the world’s best party accessory!) that takes photos and instantly prints them on 2×3″ paper. Let’s face it: we all miss Polaroid cameras — at least in theory. But with this little cutie, we don’t have to anymore!
Film is a tad expensive for teens, so be sure to order a few extra packs to get them started.
Read more about the Fujifilm Instax MINI 25 Instant Film Camera.
The smaller rendition of Apple’s most hyped product of all time, the iPad Mini is sized just right to slip into backpacks and purses (and under pillows too, so beware of bedtime). Teens will thrill to find this under their tree, or even in their stocking.
Come to think of it, anyone would thrill to get this.
Read more about the iPad Mini.
If you’ve been waiting to buy a tablet for your kids (so they’ll stop hogging yours), you’re about to be rewarded for your patience! If an iPad or an iPad Mini isn’t in the budget, don’t despair. Many more affordable, kid-friendly models are now available, just in time for the holiday season. Here are some of your best options:
1. LEAPFROG LEAP PAD 2
Ages: 3 to 9 | $99
A chunky 5×7-inch handheld gaming and learning device for the littlest kids. This entry-level gizmo comes with front and back cameras, five wholesome preloaded apps, and now compatible with both LeapFrog cartridges and the LeapFrog App Center — a library full of amazing educational and age-appropriate apps for kids.
Unlike other tablets, this one runs on AA batteries (compatible with the recharger pack, sold separately). This makes it singularly ideal for travel, when on-the-go recharging isn’t always an option.
2. NABI 2,
Ages: 4 to 10 | $199
A sturdy 7-inch Android tablet with Wi-Fi, a camera, and an included rubber shield that comes pre-loaded with $150 worth of games and ebooks, both educational and just for fun. Also included are free trial subscription-based streaming video and music apps.
Finally, it has a chore list that can be tied to a reward system (coins that can be exchanged for apps). Sadly, it can’t tell if your child really made his bed or just said he did, but what tablet can?
3. VTECH INNOTAB 2
Ages 4 to 9 | $74
An absolutely bombproof handheld gaming and learning device for small kids at an attractive price. The Vtech InnoTab 2 is tricked out with a camera, video camera, photo viewer, video player, MP3 music player, e-reader, art studio, games, and microphone. Game cartridges will cost you, but will be offset by the low device price. Apps, e-books, and music can be easily uploaded too.
Since it takes AA batteries, it’s great for travel (since it’s not always convenient to recharge on the road). Consider investing in a battery recharger though, so you won’t be buying, using, and recycling way too many batteries.
4. KINDLE FIRE
Ages 6 to adult | $160
A full-color, 7-inch tablet with multi-touch display, Wi-Fi, and (perhaps most pleasing of all) really nice integration with Amazon’s endless emporium of books, movies, magazines, games, and apps.
When Amazon released the HD version of the Kindle, the price on this base model Kindle came down $40. This is really good news for you, because you get a lot of value for your money with this model. Find my full review (from last year, but still totally relevant) here: Best gift of the season? The Kindle Fire.
5. GOOGLE NEXUS 7
Ages 6 to adult | $265
Some people want a 7″ tablet, but don’t like being locked into a device that confines them to consuming media from Amazon. For these people, the clear choice is the Google Nexus 7.
This device is almost identical to the Kindle Fire HD (not listed here, because we recommend the cheaper version). It’s an absolutely great little machine. Slightly more expensive than the Kindle Fire HD, but slightly less expensive that the iPad Mini.