Children, young people, and a world of apps
Smartphones are becoming widespread, and children are getting access to a vast and diverse app market. This creates a number of positive opportunities for play, learning and sources of useful information; however, challenges in terms of inappropriate content are also an issue.
Smartphones are mobile phones that offer advanced data processing and better connectivity than traditional mobile phones. A smartphone is in many ways a small handheld computer in which you can install small programs, or applications – known as apps.iPhone vs. Android
Smartphones are powered by an operating system, and today there are several such systems in the market. We will focus on the two competitors who have recently secured a firm grip on the market: Apple's iPhone OS and Android, from Google. *
The difference between iPhone and Android are as follows: If you want access to Apple’s huge app market, you need to get an iPhone (or an iPod Touch or iPad). An iPhone is part of a closed system, where Apple approves everything from hardware to content and available software.
The Android system, on the other hand, is open. Mobile phone manufacturers are free to design their own phones, and all applications and other contents are user-driven, completely free and without censorship (this makes Android more vulnerable to virus attacks and inappropriate content). There are advantages and disadvantages to both systems; however, we will focus on children and young people's use of such phones.
Mobile applications, or apps are, as mentioned above, small programs that can be installed on a smartphone. The number of available apps is huge, and constantly rising. There is something for everyone - from educational apps, fun games, useful services such as weather forecasts and translation services, to content only suitable for adults. The price of apps vary from being free to costing up to about £10, but generally speaking, the prices of apps are quite reasonable.
Currently, the number of available apps for iPhones is just under 200,000, while the Android Market currently offers about 50,000 apps.
Children and smartphones
Smartphones, with their user-friendly and intuitive interface, have shown to have great appeal among children and young people. In fact, the popularity of iPhones among children is so great that the New York Times called the iPhone the “toddler’s favourite toy” of 2010.
For obvious reasons, smartphones also have a high status among older children and teenagers, not least due to the fact that the phones provide access to a digital world with a vast variety of options for communication, entertainment, as well as useful and fun widgets.
“Many children and young people want smartphones," says Kids and Media’s Advisor, Kjellaug T. Tonnesen. “This challenges parents, partly because it is a relatively expensive investment, but not least because smartphones offer access to a digital world of extraordinary opportunities. Children are using smartphones in different ways than adults, challenging parents to create sensible limits concerning use.”
One of the biggest challenges relating to children and young people's use of smartphones, is without doubt the danger of encountering or downloading apps with inappropriate content. A large number of violent games can be downloaded as apps, and there are apps that provide access to sexual and other inappropriate content for minors. As an app can be downloaded by just a few taps on the screen, it is very important that parents are aware of what their children are installing on their phone. For parents of young people who are allowed to download apps at their own convenience, it is especially important to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of owning a smartphone.
Things to consider:
- In order to download apps you need to create an account with a password. All purchases of apps require that you register a credit card. It might be a good idea for parents to create an account in their name until the children reach a certain age, making it easier to supervise downloads and spending.
- There is a vast variety of content available in different apps – ranging from child friendly and safe, to completely inappropriate for children and young people.
- Age rating: Apple gives advice in regard to the recommended age of a given app in the App Store (tap on the desired app and navigate to the bottom of the page, where you’ll find information on rating). However, keep in mind that it is the app developers who decide the rating, and this may be inaccurate. Google announced in the autumn that all app developers need to include an age rating, but for now, not all apps in the Android Market are rated.
- Spend some time getting familiar with the vast and sometimes confusing app market. With so much available material, it is inevitable that the quality varies:
Related article: Great apps for children
- Agree on rules for downloading, both in terms of which kind of apps, number of apps and limits on spending.
- Be aware of hidden costs! Many apps are free to download, but in reality there are many hidden and/or potential costs. Some free apps encourage you to download a better version that you are then required to pay for, some contain clickable ads, and some might be portals for product sales, while others require you to buy upgrades while playing.
Time spent on smartphones
- Limit your children’s screen time. Even if games are educational, the use of smartphones should be included as part of the "total package" of permitted daily screen time.
- Many apps allow you to play against other players, and make online friends – some of which you don’t know in real life. Be aware that the challenges and dangers associated with chatting, online gaming and social networks – which are well known in relation to the Internet – is very relevant for smartphones as well.
- Don’t forget that smartphones provide access to the Internet, with all that entails of joys and challenges.
Related article: Tips for parents on safe net use
Play with your children
- Take part in your children´s game playing. Many apps can be played by multiple players, either in cooperation or as separate players. Sharing a common app experience creates togetherness, it might be a source of positive experiences, and, at the same time, you get an opportunity to guide your children in the digital world.
- As Apple's operating system is closed, there are many young people who want to "jailbreak" or unlock their iPod or iPhone, in order to be able to install unauthorised software and free games. For more information on this topic, the following article might be useful: What is jailbreaking?
- Find alternative activities for your children
- The iPhone may be the favourite toy of 2010; still, encourage your children to do physical activities in their leisure time – both outside and inside. An app is fun, but a walk in the woods is even better.
App-tip for parents
Game Time Limit for Parents (iPhone)
Would you like to limit the playing time for your children? Or adults, for that matter? This app allows you to set up a password and a time limit for gaming. When the time limit is reached, an alarm cries "Time's up!", and the game is locked until you re-enter the password. This is a very popular app among parents, but be careful not to reveal the password :-)
* Nokia's Symbian operating system was, as of September 2010, the market leader, but as more and more people choose the iPhone or an Android phone, Nokia is about to lose its position.
In addition, there are a number of other operating systems with a lower market share.
New York Times
Toddlers’ Favorite Toy: The iPhone
Common Sense Media
Apps 101: What to Know Before You Download
Android Market apps to get age ratings