Apps are small, specialised software programmes which can be downloaded to a mobile device to carry out a particular function. Young people love to personalise their own devices by downloading apps which carry out fun and useful functions from looking up the weather forecast, to playing games and sharing photos on a social networking site. There really seems to be an app for everything these days!
You can download apps via a ‘shop’ or ‘store’ on your mobile device, for example Apple’s App Store, Google Play and Windows Store. You are able to download most apps for free and some will be paid-for apps, normally paid for via an online account or charged to your monthly phone bill or to your pay as you go credit.
As a parent, it’s important to monitor what your child is downloading on to their smartphone or their internet enabled device. You can read further information about apps and mobile devices in our Parents' Guide to Technology.
- How do I know if an app is appropriate for my child?
Apps can be downloaded in an app store either on a device or online. As some apps cost money and others may contain content that you think is inappropriate for your child, you could use your details to register and then decide together which apps to download. As they get older you may prefer to talk to them about the apps they are using but give them the responsibility to download apps themselves. It can be difficult to keep up to date with the latest apps, but chat to your child and familiarise yourself with their favourite apps. A good place to start is to look at Common Sense Media which provide age ratings and reviews for many apps. Thereare also apps which are tools for parents that can help filter out age inappropriate content or help restrict some of the device’s functions. The Google Play Store has a Parent Guide that explains how to find family-friendly content and restrict mature content on their store.
- Can I check if an app is age-appropriate?
It is worth checking the age ratings on apps, where available. For Google Play and Windows Store, apps are rated through the PEGI system. On other app stores such as Apple’s App Store and the Amazon App store, app developers provide these age ratings and they are not generally independently rated. You can also look at app reviews online. For example, Common Sense Media's rating system relies on developmental criteria to determine what content is appropriate for which ages.
- How can I make sure apps are safe?
It is possible for apps to contain viruses and some smartphones are more prone to malicious apps. Smartphones run on an operating system (much like a computer), the three main ones are Google Android, Apple iOS and Microsoft Windows Phone. Apple and Microsoft approve every app that gets to their store so there is some degree of quality control. Android phones use software that allows developers to produce and upload any app. It is always worth reading reviews of the app on the relevant app store to check that other users have not had problems with it. Installing anti-virus software on your device can also help.
- What is in-app purchasing?
While many apps are free, sometimes you may also decide to pay for apps, which commonly cost around 99p to £2.99, (though some can cost more). In-app purchases are not always obvious; you may have downloaded a free game app, but then to upgrade to the next level you are asked to make an “in-app purchase”. By doing this you will be asked to pay an additional sum of money, which is charged to the credit card or other payment method you have put on the account. Do be careful, as it can be easy for you or your children to get carried away while playing and run up huge bills by not being aware of the mounting cost. For more information on in-app purchasing, read our Premium Rate Content hot topic. You can turn off in-app purchases if you are worried and on some smartphones it is possible to block in-app purchases and downloading apps by going into your phone settings or the app store’s settings.
For information on how to report an inappropriate app (it may be a scam app, or contain illegal or inappropriate content), please use the following links:
If you would like to report inappropriate advertising on an app you have downloaded, you should contact the Advertising Standards Association (ASA) to make a complaint.