In this blog post about the App Store, I want to share the #1 step parents can take to protect their kids who have a smartphone. It’s so simple (yet, too many parents don’t do this).
The App Store Revolutionized the Smartphone
Both Apple and Android devices have their own “store” where users can download applications (apps) that have a specific, typically narrow, function.
Some interesting history: The Apple App Store launched in July 2008, a year after the first iPhone was released. It had 500 apps! Surprisingly, 10 million apps were downloaded in the first weekend.
For Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), the store is called the iTunes App Store. For Google, it’s called the Google Play Store. As of March 2017, Apple’s store contained around 2.2 million apps, while Google contained around 2.8 million. This means there are over 5 million selections, acting almost like a mini-search engine for words I might hear about and want to search for.
The #1 Way to Make a Smartphone Safer
This is going to seem obvious. Mom and dad, please do this for me.
TURN OFF THE APP STORE!
Easy, right? Still not convinced you need to do this? Here are three reasons why this is a good idea.
3 Reasons to Turn off the App Store
Your kids can circumvent your parental controls – if you download a filtered browser like Mobicip or Covenant Eyes for your child’s smartphone, then he/she can simply download another browser (Chrome, Google, Opera, Dolphin, etc.) in order to circumvent the monitored browser. Another popular circumvention technique is to download what’s called a Virtual Private Network app (VPN), which allows your child to punch through any network controls you have in your home (i.e., on the router) and surf the internet unfiltered.
Your kids will see things you don’t want them to – although we’ve not found outright pornography in the app store, there are very sexually charged apps that young kids should not see. These include apps showing sexual positions, “gay hook-up” apps, one-night stand apps, “how to make her orgasm,” Kamasutra, and others. The app descriptions just contain a lot of inappropriate words and phrases that I don’t need my child learning before he/she is ready. Here are screenshots of some of the apps we discovered.
Your kids might spend a lot of your money – in-app purchases can cause a lot of trouble. I frequently receive messages from moms who are receiving monthly charges on their credit cards for apps their kids have downloaded and now they want to stop the charges. There are multiple issues with this situation that are very easy to prevent. The primary issue is that the child has access to the app store and “in-app purchases” are turned on. Keep reading to learn how to turn off in-app purchases.
Bonus Reason: Kids are Curious Creatures
Mom and dad, you know this. When your child is riding the bus and see five other kids huddled around a phone playing the latest game or reading the latest juicy story on Episode, curiosity might take over. The next time they’re in their bedroom (no Internet access in the bedroom either!) they might begin just cruising the app store.
Related post: iPhone Restrictions and Family Sharing
How to Disable the App Store
Depending on whether you’ve upgraded to iOS 12 or are still using a previous version, the steps might look different. For iOS 12, you’ll want to follow our detailed steps in our popular post.
Related post: How to Set up iOS 12 Screen Time
Disable the App Store on iOS 11 and previous
If your son or daughter has an Apple device, including an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, then the steps to disable the App Store are the same on all three devices and it’s easy.
Simply enable the device’s Restrictions with a 4-digit passcode and the toggle off the App Store. We give detailed instructions in this blog post, or simply follow the images below.
What if an app was already downloaded?
Let’s say your child downloaded Snapchat before you set up parental controls or you decided that you didn’t want your child on Snapchat anymore. Unfortunately, it is still possible for your child to get this app again if they have access to the app store even if you enabled Ask To Buy. This app will always be in their library/iCloud and can’t be deleted. The only way to prevent a redownload is to block access to the App Store. You could also turn off Deleting Apps. Then you will be able to see any app your child downloaded when you check their phone.
Also if you have an app installed on your phone, your child will have access through it via Family Sharing. There are some solutions though.
- Disable Family Sharing: Tap Apple ID–>Family Sharing–>turn Purchase Sharing off.
- If you don’t want to disable Family Sharing, then you can hide apps that you’ve purchased. Go to the App Store–>tap your profile in the upper right corner–>Purchased–>My Purchases–>swipe left on app–>click Hide.
- Turn off child’s profile in the App Store and they won’t have access to Family Sharing apps. Settings–>Screen Time–>choose child–>Content & Privacy Restrictions–>Allow Changes–>Account Changes–>Don’t Allow.
FYI: Even if you hide an app, if your child searches for it in the App Store, then they will still be able to find it. They will see the cloud symbol (see graphic below) and still be able to redownload it. So this may be another reason to remove access to the App Store.
Disable Google Play on Android Devices (a bit more work)
Unlike Apple devices, Android devices don’t come with factory settings to disable the Google Play Store (bummer).
But, you have a couple of great options:
- App Lock for Android (free) – we’ve never used it, but it came recommended by a friend.
- Mobicip provides an Android parental control dashboard that allows you to block app downloads on Google Play, in addition to monitoring what apps are being used. You can protect up to five devices for only $39.99/year. A combination of the free App Lock and Mobicip’s overall device control might be the perfect combination for your family. THEN, layer Bark on top of that to monitor social media? Awesome. Cost: $9.99/month for Bark + $39.99/year for Mobicip + $0 for App Lock. Not bad!
What’s Our Home’s App Store Rule?
In our home, no one will have unmonitored access to the iTunes App Store or Google Play Store until age 16. I’ve already told our daughter, “Once you get your driver’s license, then you can have access to browse the app store without mom or dad being closely involved.”
BONUS: How to know if your kid has downloaded an app?
This excellent graphic created by teacher April Requard shows parents exactly what they need to know.