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).
WWF Together, the animal conservation app from the World Wildlife Fund, is the only app we’ve ever tested that made us wish we could award more than five stars. It’s that good.
Also, it’s free, so go download it right now. We’ll wait.
This educational app is like nothing you’ve seen before. At the most basic level, it showcases the animals that the World Wildlife Federation is fighting for. But there’s so much more than that.
Why we like it:
Choose an animal to learn about, and you’re presented with a photo of it. Zoom in, and each of the nine tiles offers a different interactive experience from Facetime (a narrated video) and conservation facts to captioned photos and a species snapshot (which tells you population, habitat, and how far away you live from these animals).
The acoustic guitar soundtrack is a nice accompaniment, and the origami paper video effects are amazing. Very young kids will need a parent to navigate, but this makes a really good bedtime story.
Watch out for:
Currently there are eight species to explore. If you want to be notified when rhinos, gorillas, sharks, and jaguars come online, be sure to set up an email notification.
Looking for a shortcut to the most useful apps to download now? You just found it. We’ve also got a list of the best free apps and the best apps for kids too.
1. Kids Media
The app version of Common Sense Media, a thoughtful website that reviews thousands of movies, TV shows, music, video games, apps, websites and books. Reviews let you know exactly what to expect. Check this app first when deciding what media is appropriate for your kids. Better yet, search for good stuff by age.
2. RedLaser Barcode Scanner and QR Code Reader
Use your device’s camera to scan the barcode of any product to instantly find the best prices (both on and offline), reviews, coupons, and alternatives. It’s absolutely amazing to be able to scan a remote control helicopter while you’re standing in the toy aisle at Target and then read online reviews before deciding to buy.
If you’re going to be taking pictures with your phone or tablet (and of course you are), you’ll need powerful but simple photo editing capability. Lighten, brighten, crop, and filter to your heart’s content. There are many, many, many photo editing apps, but this is one of the best. Also? It used to be $5, but now it’s free.
4. NY Times Crosswords
Price: free for one week, then by subscription
The sine qua non of word apps, the NY Times Crosswords app delivers all the gray matter stimulation you need to keep your mind sharp and in shape. While the app itself is free, you will have to pay to get the daily puzzles after a free trial. Whether you’re a Monday only puzzler or a master, this is a polished and intuitive app. Even with tiny boxes, it works very well on a small screen. On a big screen, it’s word geek heaven.
5. AVG Family Safety
This is a free, family-friendly web browser that helps protect your children from inappropriate web content, while also acting as your first line of defense against fraud, phishing, malware, and scams. It also has a “Do not track” privacy feature to stop companies from collecting data on your web browsing history.
Back in the olden days — which in this case was just a couple of years ago, video editing was an onerous task. Most products were either way too basic (Microsoft Movie Maker) or way too expensive and complex for home users (Final Cut Pro). Well, forget all that, because now there’s iMovie, and unless you’re doing this for a living, this $5 app makes great home movies. It’s so easy to use that my 12-year-old taught herself. You don’t even have to upload video clips since you can shoot straight from the device.
7. PBS for iPad
If you’re a public television fan, you’ll be delighted to learn that you can download this app and watch all the most popular and current PBS programming free and with minimal interruption. Get all your Downton Abbey, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, PBS NewsHour, and Nova when and where you want. Can’t you just feel your IQ going up?
8. Allrecipes.com Dinner Spinner Pro
The only recipe app you’ll ever need. Not only can you search the entire AllRecipes database by ingredient and course, you can now search by preparation time. Time crunched people everywhere are going to love that feature! You can also apply any dietary filters you like (vegetarian, vegan, high fiber and so on) and add ingredients straight to a built in shopping list.
9. Words with Friends HD
We recommend this ad-free version that’s optimized for the iPad, though you can find several free versions in the App Store too. If you like Scrabble, but hate sitting and waiting for you turn, this is the app for you. You can play up to 20 turn-based games simultaneously! It’s a great vocabulary builder for kids (assuming they don’t download or use cheats, tsk tsk!). It’s also a nice way for kids to stay in touch with grandparents.
If you haven’t experienced TED talks (short for Technology, Entertainment, and Design), you’re in for a fun and mind-expanding surprised. Download this app, and listen to education radicals, tech geniuses, medical mavericks, business gurus, and music legends talk about ideas worth spreading. Best of all, the talks are never more than 18 minutes long, sometimes less.