With a lineup of over 100,000 apps, Apple has an app for most needs among its iPhone-carrying customers – that is, the adults. As it turns out, app developers are creating more and more apps for children, which raises a number of interesting questions. Is even more screen time good for kids? What are apps offering to kids? How much learning and growth can be triggered by the use of iPhone apps? Is it all about video games in the end?
As an iPhone app developer, mom of three growing kids, and a member of MomsWithApps, I deal with this question every day, professionally and personally. In my mind, the child/iPhone combo often conjures images of images of kids playing video games for hours on end, and that’s often the case. At the same time, there are also some fantastic educational apps and benefits that come from mobile devices. So what might be some characteristics of apps for kids that make them worth downloading?
As a parent, I am looking for apps that start with the iPhone but encourage engagement with the world beyond the device, like sparking conversations with family and friends, exploring “real world” sites and phenomena through maps and geocaching. I applaud apps that truly require strategic and creative thinking, not just mindless repetition. The latest hot app is not necessarily good for kids just because they like it. In selecting apps, parents should look carefully for ones which are gateways back into the “real” world, not just a highway to the couch.
“Educational” means not just math facts, drills, and phonics, but also activities and content that encourage and develop social and communication skills: like PicPocket Books’ picture books, Tales2Go’s audio library or the conversation starters from the Family Matters App. By expanding horizons, these apps become tools for engagement rather than a drug for tuning out.
As responsible parents, we must look closely not only at the content we allow our children to experience on the screen, but also how, when, how often, and where they are plugged in to mobile devices or other screens. One of the best ways to practice moderation and to set enforceable limits is to model the right example for your kids. Recognize that technology can be addictive – not only for kids but for adults too. If you don’t want your kids to zone out in front of the screen, then stop constantly checking your own devices. Set boundaries and limits that work for your family, and enforce the rules.
In our household, computers and mobile devices are kept on the main living level so parents can monitor online behavior in terms of content and time spent on-line. We have the kids tell us which games they are playing, what they like about them, and have them show us how they play as well – maybe even play with them, all to ensure that communication and engagement come with the virtual fun. We also make an effort to stay current with new communication platforms and technological developments.
Down the road, knowing how to navigate that world – and engaging in it creatively and actively - will keep doors open longer for communicating with kids.
Thanks to MomsWithApps’ Lorraine Akemann and Jill Seman for collaborating and contributing to this post.