Choosing Digital Apps, Games, and Services Wisely

What to consider when selecting apps, games, media, and online services for your children.

Many parents worry about the amount of time their children are spending on devices. While time is one consideration, the content and features of media they’re using is important too. The six steps below will help families discover high-quality media. They’ll also help parents learn what to look for and discuss with their children before using a new app, game or service.

Step 1: Make a list of the specific games/apps/media your children use or would like to use.

Step 2: Use reviews to learn about the game/app/media your child wants to use. The following two sites provide information about what’s in a game, app, movie, or online service. This helps parents make informed decisions about the media used by their children.

Step 3: Consider the following questions to inform your decision and what you need to talk about with your child. Click to expand each question for suggestions about what to discuss with your children.

What is the educational value of the app, media, game, or service?

Talk with your child about where they can go to find age-appropriate apps, games, movies, etc.

Can your child communicate with people they don’t know while using the app, game, or service?

Talk with your child about:

  • what personal information is ok to share and with whom.
  • whether it’s ok to share photos/videos and when does a photo or video cross the line into inappropriate.
  • what they can do if they receive communications that make them feel uncomfortable or scared.
  • your expectations for how to treat people when communicating online.
  • what to do if someone they are communicating with is in trouble or needs help.

Is the app, game, media, or service age appropriate and is there questionable content?

Talk with your child about:

  • why using content or online services that are not age-appropriate may be unhealthy or unsafe.
  • real life vs. dramatization.
  • adult content vs. kid content.

Does the tool or service use location services?

Talk with your child about:

  • whether you expect location services to be on or off and why.
  • the benefits and potential dangers of leaving location services turned on. Some services make it visible for others to see where they are.

Can your child buy additional features, also known as in-app purchases?

Talk with your child about:

  • whether they can purchase additional features and if so, what process you expect them to follow.
  • whether they should ask permission before making a purchase.
  • whether you will preload money into the accounts for them to use.
  • how to keep track of how much money they are spending. Make it visible so they learn money management.
  • how companies use what the buy and click on to advertise to them.

Can they publish text, photos, or videos publicly?

Talk with your child about:

  • the value of their digital footprint and how to cultivate a positive one that will help their current and future opportunities.
  • who looks at digital footprints (colleges, future employers, friends, family, community members).
  • what is helpful to publish and might be harmful to publish.

Is there live streaming?

Talk with your child about:

  • the importance of self-regulation. Explain why it is important to consider immediate and future consequences of live streaming their experiences.
  • your family’s values and when/where and what content is ok to live stream or whether you permit it at all.

What information is collected about your child and who can they share it with? This information is usually found in the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies.

Talk with your child about:

  • the information the app, game, or service is collecting about them and why it matters.
  • who their information can be shared with.

Who owns the content your child posts or shares?

Talk with your child about:

  • copyright and their rights and responsibilities as consumers and creators of online content.
  • Creative Commons licensing and how they can decide how their original works of art can be used by others.

Does the app, game, media, or service reflect your family’s values?

Talk with your child about why the app, game, media or online services is or isn’t in alignment with your family’s values.

Step 4: Ok, you’ve done your research! Next, decide if the app, game, or media is right for your family. Does your child have the maturity, critical thinking, and self-regulation skills to use it in a safe, responsible and ethical manner?

Step 5: Establish expectations and consequences. Be transparent about any parental controls you plan to use. Be consistent in upholding the expectations and consequences. FCPS provides resources for establishing expectations.

Step 6: Enjoy media together. Use teachable moments to help your child develop a safe and healthy relationship with their media and devices.