Mobile App ABCs for Parents

ESRBThe new school year is underway. While the focus tends to be on our kids and how best to prepare them for the year ahead, it’s also the perfect time for parents to brush up on how to best manage their kids’ interaction with the virtual world. As we know all too well, when they’re not hitting the books, our kids are often nose-deep in a tablet or smartphone – or begging you to download an app that they claim all their friends have.

While it’s tempting to let children roam freely in mobile app stores, a little parental supervision goes a long way. In fact, to assist parents in doing just that, this past summer federal regulations were updated to require mobile apps that are directed to kids to get consent from parents when collecting certain types of personal information from kids, including their location. Apps are also required to tell parents why they’re collecting this information and with whom they may be sharing it – in plain English, not buried in legalese.

Still, when perusing an app store, it can often be hard to judge at a glance the age-appropriateness of an app or its content without downloading it first. Thankfully, there are a number of resources that let parents quickly check out an app or find new apps that meet their criteria for privacy and safety. One is a free mobile app from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) that offers age and content ratings for more than 30,000 games and apps. It will also let parents know whether apps share users’ personal information, will track and share their locations, or lets players interact with each other.

There are hundreds of thousands of apps out there that kids are drawn to. The selection keeps getting more and more diverse, and their features – particularly the types of information they collect and how it’s used – keep evolving. As a parent, we all aim to strike a balance between giving our kids what they want and what’s best for them. In the case of choosing apps, information is power. Take advantage of these types of resources so you can be sure that when your kids decide to take a break from the books to enjoy some screen time, you’re helping them choose apps that truly make the grade.