Choosing apps for kids: 4 things to do before you tap install

things to check before downloading kids' apps

Even the youngest of today’s digital natives know the App Store inside out. Kids of all ages instinctively understand how to play online games, navigate book apps, and most of the time, they’re fully capable of downloading and signing up for new apps and services themselves.   

This can be a great thing as long as the apps children are interacting with are positive ones. Therefore, it’s important that parents know how to choose good apps for kids—just as we’ve learned to select quality, age-appropriate television shows and other media. Next time your child asks you to purchase or download an app, consider these tips.

1. Test out the app first

It’s so tempting to simply glance at the app’s age recommendation and click on install, especially if you’re a busy parent. Unfortunately, these recommendations aren’t always spot-on and some can be way off target. That’s because it’s the app developer (not a neutral party) that provides these recommendations. 

Moreover, not all 9 year-olds are alike, so just because the app is labeled ages 9+ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for your child.

2. Beware of in-app purchases

Many “free” apps for kids (sometimes labeled “lite”) lure kids in by offering one or two free games or features and then displaying tempting levels, add-ons, or additional games that cost money. Loot boxes, which are a common feature in free-to-play games, hide random items such as weapons, coins, or special abilities which often make gameplay easier or more fun.

Another popular way for game developers to make money is to use gacha game mechanics, where items, cards, or other similar rewards can be “won” by spinning, pulling, or rolling a mechanism, much like a fruit machine. 

Some of these apps are enjoyable while others do nothing but frustrate kids. Depending on your child’s personality and your willingness to pay for extras, you may want to avoid these apps altogether or bite the bullet and pay for the full version instead. It can be difficult to tell which games use gacha mechanics or contain loot boxes, as this won’t be disclosed on the download page. Therefore it’s a good idea to check user reviews and play the game through yourself before letting your child have access.

what to check before installing apps with kids

3. Teach your child to avoid ads

While free apps are pocketbook friendly, another potential problem many of them present is the presence of advertising. Of course, ads enable the developer to offer the app free of charge, but there are downsides as well. If you’re OK with your child being marketed to, then at the very least, take the time to teach your child what ads look like and advise them not to tap on them. Doing so will take your child to a website outside of the app, which could possibly expose them to online dangers.

 4. Look out for sharing features

Despite the recommended age for most social media apps being around 13, it’s hard for kids to escape their influence in some way or another as they play games, hit high scores, and get crafty online. Many apps encourage users to share results or the progress they have made on their social media profiles – an easy way for the developers to draw attention to their app and its cool features. 

In addition, many apps and games now allow users to communicate with others via a chat feature, so children can easily make contact with strangers despite not being active on social media. 

If you’re not ready for your child to be active on social media or want to ensure that they don’t encounter a stranger online, it’s best to avoid apps that offer these sharing features altogether unless you plan to play alongside your child.

What are the best apps for kids?

Children’s apps can offer rich and rewarding experiences. Many of them can even enhance your child’s cognitive abilities and teach them skills they will need along the way for school and life. Supplying your child with fun, age-appropriate apps is a great, inexpensive way to make the most of your family’s digital devices. Just be sure that the apps you choose to purchase and install for your child will provide positive and safe ways for them to learn and be entertained.

Not sure where to get started with child-friendly apps? Check out our guides below for some educational, fun, and entertaining kids’ apps!

The 10 best educational apps for kids and tweens

Looking for the best educational apps to keep your kids entertained (and mentally engaged) on and offline? We’ve broken down the 10 best educational apps for kids and tweens, designed to really get them learning – so they can still have fun with technology, while you can be sure their time spent online is productive.

The 15 best apps for kids this summer

During the school break, many families look for apps and games designed to spark kids’ interests in new topics. Here’s how to keep your kids engaged and learning even when they aren’t in school — and avoid the summer slide.

The top 10 best back-to-school apps

Apps can be a great help during back-to-school season, keeping kids and families organized, focused, healthy – and above all, learning! Child psychologist Dr. Nicole Beurkens recommends her top 10 app choices for families during the back-to-school period. 

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