This Is The Surprising Problem With Bad Apps For Kids

Do you ever wonder if it'll end?

The nonstop hamster wheel style chase you've been on trying to keep up with good apps for your child versus the big, bad ones?

The chase. The worry. The relief in finding an app okay enough to say "yes" to that you haven't seen even a trace of it mentioned by your friends on Facebook.

And then, one day, while you're innocently sipping your latte in your LuLaRoe's, scrolling through Facebook, you see it — again.

The warnings.

The indignant cries of, "that's why my child isn't online yet." #TskTsk

The heartbreaking story of another child making another mistake on another app.

Only this time?

It's the app you said, "yes" to. 

Your tummy is absolutely sinking and your heart is definitely pounding louder than before. Not even a unicorn LuLaRoe could make this one better. 

I have news for you: 

It'll happen again.

And again.

Snapchat has been in the hotseat for forever.

Instagram is being blamed for a whole lot of heartache.

Even Roblox has been in the (bad) news.

Which is why you can't afford to keep making this mistake:

Focusing on bad apps instead of good skills.

Wait, what?

This is exactly what we're going to cover today.

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In this article, you're going to learn:

  • Which popular apps have been in the Facebook thread hotseat and why this will keep happening again and again.
  • Why the apps themselves are definitely NOT the problem for you or your child.
  • How staying on that wretched "bad app" hamster wheel can actually be HURTING your efforts to keep your child safe online.
  • What you should do instead starting today.
  • And why this way is infinitely more effective than that hamster wheel and how you can ditch that awful thing for forever, amen.

Let's start at the very beginning.

Where I live and when my daughter was a tween, Instagram was often the "Gateway App" — the one that older kids were using and that parents of older kids had deemed off the "bad list."

Related: Is Instagram Safe For Kids? Here's What You Need To Know.

It's also an app that I love to use, so it was a perfect first app for me to say "yes" to.

It was our Gateway App.

good apps for kids to use first

What I call a "Gateway App" is the app, social media site, or even texting that your child will start using first and that will usually lead to more app use.

A perfect Gateway App is one that you already know a bit about so that it's not overwhelming to you and that your child is interested in using because her friends are using it, for example, so that she's vested in learning your rules and guidelines about its use and keeping her app access solid.

Get this!

I created a really detailed checklist for you to use as your child starts using her Gateway App. There's a lot to consider and keep in mind with app use, so download that checklist right here:

Do you notice something about the Perfect Gateway App?

I'm not telling you which is app is best — or worst — for you and your child. This is 100% on purpose! 

There's absolutely no way for me — or anyone else on Facebook or behind blog posts or articles — to know what the best app choices are for your family! This is so dependent on your own comfort level, your child's interests and maturity, what app her friends are using, and so on.

And when used correctly, Gateway Apps allow you to teach your child what she needs to know in a way that will carry over to other apps, which is a really important step in getting off of the Bad App chase hamster wheel for you and teaching your child the lifelong skills she needs to use any app safely and smartly.

Yes, really — any app.

It’s about the skills, not the apps themselves.

Tips:

  • I recommend learning on one Gateway App at a time.
  • And really honing in on the skills that carry over.
  • You do need to learn a bit about the first app you say "yes" to.
  • But this definitely doesn't last forever so hang in there!
  • Texting is an amazing Gateway App because it's so contained.

Remember when I told you that Instagram was a popular Gateway App where I live when my oldest first asked to be online?

On the opposite side of the (parenting) road, Snapchat was considered the worst possible choice for kids.

It was in the hotseat a lot for its disappearing messages.

So I built all of my rules and guidelines and conversations with my daughter on Instagram. We never talked about video or disappearing messages or anything like that.

Not too long after we had those first conversations, I was scrolling through Instagram and guess what I saw?

My daughter in an Instagram video with one of her friends!

It was completely innocent and fine, but it immediately gave me something else to worry about and discuss with her. In other words, I was right back on that hamster wheel!

And not too long after that, I opened up my own Instagram account and direct messages, and look what I saw:

live video on instagram that disappears

Not only did Instagram roll out live video, but also videos and photos that can be sent via private messages and that disappear after they're watched and that can be deleted on both sides of the messages — the receiving and the sending — by the sender.

Gulp.

You guessed it, right back on the hamster wheel I went!

I don't want this for you.

The mistake that I was making was building all of my rules around specific apps instead of on skills that would carry over from app to app.

Related: Kindness Wins, a simple, no-nonsense guide to teaching your child to be kind anywhere she goes online

So instead of having a private account, a super common rule that lots of parents have in place, I needed to hone in on what I was teaching my daughter to post and what not to post.

This is the way to get off of the hamster wheel!

You can take the first step right off that wheel today by downloading your safety checklist:

When you build your rules on the apps themselves, you're forcing your own hand at staying on top of every single app that your child becomes interested in and every single change that every single app makes.

The reason this is true, besides that fact that that hamster wheel is exhausting, is because it keeps you focused on the ever-changing apps rather than the lifelong skills.

This is one reason that you know so many adults who make mistakes online.

No one is born knowing these skills, they have to be taught like swimming and crossing the street and driving and how to eat an Oreo.

Just kidding about the Oreos, but the other three are really great analogies!

It's not about learning the rules of A road, it's about learning the rules of THE road.

The Bad App List is a myth, and a hurtful one at that

A crystal clear example of this was when Roblox was under fire because an adult had logged into his child's account and was immediately propositioned via private messages.

Not only have so many families had great experiences with Roblox, but how many other games have the capability to send private messages? So many of them!

So in this case, you have three choices

1. Ban Roblox and continue to chase every app that has this capability and ban it, too. #HamsterWheel

2. Turn off the private messaging capability. #GoodStart

3. Turn off private messaging while you teach your child the skills she needs to not engage with private messages from strangers and to Screencap + Tell (Like we had Stop, Drop, and Roll, this is the mantra that I want all modern kids to know!) if something makes her uncomfortable. #ParentBrighter

Many apps, Roblox is one them, have taken steps to partner with parents in Parenting Brighter. But the apps can't do it alone. They need you.

is rob lox safe for kids

The benefits of #ParentBrighter

Once your child has these skills:

  • You're off the hamster wheel.
  • And she's well on her way to having the lifelong skills she needs to be safe and smart online and to have a healthy relationship with technology.

This is the goal.

Parent yourself right out of the App Chase job!

So to recap:

  1. Snapchat, Instagram, Roblox — every app has the potential to be a "Bad App."
  2. This happens because the apps themselves change making it hard for you to keep up with rules when they're app-based.
  3. And because no one is born knowing the carryover, underlying skills they need to be safe and smart online — these have to be directly taught.
  4. When you're focusing on the apps, you're not focusing on the skills.
  5. Make this shift by NOT banning "Bad Apps" and instead TEACHING good skills.

Because listen: As fast as things move in the online world, apps change.

But when they DO change, you don’t have to join the millions of parents scrambling to find and ban the next bad app.

Because you don’t sweat the apps — you're teaching lifelong skills.

And skills are not only what win the war, but they're also what make this digital age peaceful ... and even enjoyable!

AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN

galit breen these little waves

Hi, I'm Galit. (*My name is pronounced guh-leet + means little waves, like in the ocean.) I give you the tools you need to let your kids benefit from the amazing things the online world has to offer them and create a popsicle dripping, chapter book reading (in one sitting!), leaf crunching childhood that they deserve. Welcome, I'm so glad you're here. What can you expect from me? I spill it all right here.