a parents’ guide to apps
Although child-friendly apps can make using the internet a more accessible and enjoyable experience, the thousands of apps available for different types of people mean it’s important to make sure children use appropriate ones.
This guide maps some of the most common apps available and highlights those that might create risky situations for children, such as unintentionally revealing personal information, stranger danger and generating large bills through in-app purchasing.
Some apps that allow children to create and maintain online relationships raise some important safety issues that it’s worth knowing about as a parent:
Chatting with strangers
Meeting and chatting with strangers online poses risks to young people who might be vulnerable to grooming and online (and offline) forms of sexual abuse.
Sending inappropriate content
With the physical barrier of a screen, some people feel more empowered to pressurise others into sending messages, often of a sexual or derogatory nature.
Sharing a location
Many apps share the user’s location. This can put children at risk from others who actively seek out children with the intention of meeting in the real world. Sharing a location can also raise concerns with identity theft and privacy.
Chatting apps popular with children
Where available, you’ll also find links to the relevant privacy pages or FAQs for these apps.
Apps for meeting new people that might create risks
Many of these apps forge a link between children, teens, and adults in the virtual world. Whilst some of the apps don’t have age restrictions, those that do could be ignored by young people. Worryingly these apps might also bridge the gap between virtual and real world. In a recent Childline survey, as many as 33% of children had been asked to meet offline by someone they’ve met on a dating site.
In this section you’ll also find links to independent third-party articles and opinions about these apps and the risks they may pose.
Apps to help young people overcome chatting problems
Social networks allow young people to maintain social relationships with school friends, distant friends or online friends they’ve never met. This section looks at the world of social networking apps and some of the risks they may pose for children. For more information about social networks and how to set up important privacy settings, see our page on Social Networking.
Parents should be aware of some issues with social networking apps:
Many apps work on the basis of identity or phone number information. In many cases apps don’t always let you know that this information is being used, meaning children could be sharing personal information. As well as on the social networks themselves, privacy and security settings are available on most devices. You can find out more at our Privacy & Identity Theft page.
Smartphones allow people to take photos and share them instantly on their social networks or post information about someone online in seconds. Sometimes this can mean young people are even more vulnerable to episodes of cyberbullying.
Social networking apps popular with children
Where available, you’ll also find links to relevancy privacy pages, parent guides or safety tips for these apps.
Social networking apps that might create risky situations for children
These apps have gained a reputation for being potentially dangerous for children because of the types of technology they use and the types of communities that have gradually formed around them.
In this section you’ll also find links to relevant safety pages or independent third-party articles and opinions with further information about specific apps and the risks they may pose.
Parents should know about some important issues linked to decoy, gaming, and music apps:
Although most apps now go through a process of classification and are rated based the type of content they contain, all apps are available to download by anyone who has a password to the app store.
This may expose children to explicit content, sometimes without their parents knowing. Some of this content can be illegal or simply inappropriate for children as it’s meant for adults.
Apps can cost money to buy from the app store – and some of them can be very expensive.
Some of the ‘free’ apps make their money in different ways, by encouraging you to spend money when using the app. This can mean that bills quickly build up without you even realising it. Read more about in-app purchasing.
Some apps have been created with the specific purpose of allowing the user to hide content within them. These decoy apps can protect personal information from strangers but also allow people to hide content they don’t want anyone else to see.
Some examples of decoy apps
In order to throw off the unknowing eye, decoy app icons often look like a regular camera icon, music app, photo app or a calculator. These apps are great for securing sensitive information from strangers, but they also make it difficult for parents to monitor what information children are accessing and holding on their devices.
Some examples of popular gaming apps
In-app purchasing allows the user to buy ‘virtual extras’ and is common with games advertised as ‘free to download’. With varying degrees of pressure, virtual ‘currency’ is often required to progress in an online game. As a parent, you can restrict in-app purchasing by changing the settings on your child’s device.
Some examples of popular music apps
- D. Holloway, L. Green and S. Livingstone, EU Kids Online network, Zero to Eight: Young children and their internet use, August 2013.
- Nielsen Book, Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age, September 2013.
- Internet Matters OnePoll survey of parents of 5-11 year olds.