5 ways to decide if an app is safe for your kids

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When you decide your child is ready for their own smartphone, chances are, they'll want to download some of the same apps their friends use. But how can you tell if an app is safe for your kids? 

Whether your child is six or 16, these five tips for evaluating app safety can help you feel better about how your kids are spending time online.

1. Explore app stores.

If you review an app’s description and download page, you’ll be able to see product screenshots, user reviews, the date it launched, and how many people have downloaded it. You may also find a link to the app developer’s website, where you can learn more about the company behind the app.

Apps that have been around for several years, with large user bases, give you a pool of reviews and insights to draw on. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every new app with limited downloads is malware; far from it. But reviews from other parents can help you better decide whether this app is right for your child.

2. Check age ratings.

Apps have age ratings, just like the movies and music we used to beg our parents for permission to watch or buy. Apple's App Store uses age tiers, while the Google Play Store relies on the familiar "E for Everyone" and "T for Teen" ratings you'll probably recognize from video games.

Apple and Google Play age ratings for Roblox

Common Sense Media is another excellent resource. The group’s interactive review tool lets you customize exactly what you consider inappropriate content for your child. The site will then deliver suggestions for kid-friendly, age-appropriate apps you can feel good about.

Common Sense Media app review tool

3. Watch videos about an app.

There are entire social media channels dedicated to videos of people playing different games, as well as app reviews. Ask your child where they learned about the app. If it was on YouTube or TikTok, watch some of their favorite content creators with them and discuss why they're interested in specific apps. (This is also a subtle way to evaluate what kind of social media apps and content your child is engaging with.)

If they learned about an app from another source, do a little YouTube sleuthing yourself to find reviews and walkthroughs. And if the app is a mobile game, Twitch is another good spot to find videos of what gameplay looks like.

4. Review app permissions.

Think back to the last time you logged on to Zoom or Teams for a call. The software probably asked for your permission to access your camera and microphone, right? If you were to say no, the other people on the call wouldn't be able to see or hear you—the camera and mic access is necessary. 

Smartphone and tablet apps, even games, might ask for or require permissions in a similar manner. Knowing what permissions your kids' apps are asking for is a key part of deciding whether or not a particular app is safe for them to use. 

It's entirely up to you to decide what you're comfortable with; requests for camera access, microphone permissions, location tracking, and financial info can be potential red flags depending on the app's purpose. 

Google Play data safety summary

It makes sense that WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and other chatting apps request microphone access, but there might not be a good reason an idle farming game needs to access your child’s camera.

Luckily, iOS and Android app download pages include information about the data that may be collected by your kids’ apps. 

5. Read privacy policies.

We know, we know—nobody really reads all of the privacy policies they agree to, right? (Actually, according to the Pew Research Center, about 40% of U.S. adults often read these policies, so if that's you, rock on.)

While slogging through 18 pages of legalese isn't the most enjoyable way to spend your Friday night, privacy policies and terms of service documents often contain additional valuable information about how invasive a particular app may be.

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