Are These Five Instant Messaging Apps Safe for Kids?

by Anna Hughes on July 20, 2017
So many apps, so many things you need to protect your children from...

Keeping kids safe online can feel daunting, but it’s especially so with instant-messaging apps. Which apps are the safest for kids, and what should you know about them?

The Basics

There’s nothing that protects children online better than common sense. Teach your kids about the risks of the internet and speaking to strangers online, and make sure they understand if a stranger or a “friend” they’ve never met in person is making them uncomfortable, that they can come to you for help. Make sure you’re talking to them about who they’re friends with and what those friends are saying. Above all, listen. The more open your ears are, the safer your kids will be.

Which Apps Are Safe For Kids?

First off, remember that you can prevent your kids from downloading apps using a parental control app. Before you give your teen a phone, sit them down, explain the rules of the road, and set consequences for breaking those rules. And most importantly, pick one or two apps they’re allowed to use and block the others.

Texting: Yes, the simple text message is still popular, and often it’ll be where teens communicate most, especially as phone manufacturers add instant-message like features. Despite the dire warnings surrounding texting, it’s relatively easy to control compared to other apps, and easy to check on. It’s a good idea to set standards for texting and limits on who your teen can text with.

Facebook Messenger: Facebook is, by far, the biggest social media site in the world, and can be used by children as young as 13. Facebook is famous (or perhaps notorious) for its “hands-off” approach to safety and security. Any security is fundamentally up to you, so sit down with the parental controls for your children’s account and configure them to your comfort.

Parental control apps

Who’s texting your preteen?

Snapchat: Snapchat has a lot of features, like the newly introduced “SnapMaps,” that can make parents cringe. But thankfully, those features tend to be “opt-in,” and you can, for example, ensure kids only contact their friends on the app. Still, you should stay on top of them and occasionally check their settings to ensure they’re not giving away information.

Kik: Keeping track of children on Kik is tricky, so much so that the company directly recommends that if your teenager keeps trying to use it, that you uninstall the app and block downloading it directly on your child’s phone. It’s not recommended for young teens, from a safety perspective.

WhatsApp: Despite being owned by Facebook, WhatsApp is fairly hands-off when it comes to safety. For many issues, including hate speech and propaganda, it essentially passes the buck onto the user, taking the unfortunately common stance that they just provide the platform and aren’t accountable for how that platform is used. There aren’t really any strong onboard features for parents, so it likely makes more sense to just ban it from your child’s phone altogether.

Remember that this isn’t a “do it once” type of parenting project. You’ll need to work with your child, listen to them, check in with them, and make sure they understand both what common sense and internet safety tell them to do in dangerous situations. For more help in keeping your children safe online, learn more about Screen Time.


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Communicating Effectively with Your Tween May Be Easier Than You Think

by Anna Hughes on July 13, 2017
“How do I talk to my tween?” Teenagers are notoriously confusing and surly, but the same can be said for many preteens as well. But don't despair; you and your tween can communicate, it just takes understanding where they're coming from and vice versa.
Parental control software

Your preteen wants to talk to you, but perhaps not on your terms.

Don’t Take It Personally

Think back to when you were a tween. You probably wanted more space and more privacy, right? If you get your parents on the phone, you might hear some stories that sound exactly like what you’re going through. So, if your preteen stops sharing things with you or demands more space, don’t take it personally: They’re just experiencing the same emotional growing pains we all suffer through.

Follow The Golden Rule

Setting a good example for communicating with your tween is often the best way to get them to open up. If they see you respecting the boundaries of others, coming to other family members to talk openly, keeping your eyes on faces and away from screens, and generally showing how you wish to be treated, they’ll follow your lead. It’ll be a good way to set some standards and boundaries when both are changing fast for your tween. Or, simply put, tweens are increasingly asking to be treated like adults, so show them how adults earn that respect and autonomy.

Parental control software

Some screen time is OK, but hiding behind screens isn’t.

Limit “Hiding Screens”

None of us can pretend we haven’t tried to avoid an awkward or unwanted conversation by checking our screens, be it staring at the monitor at work or pretending to get a text. Tweens do this too, so make a point of setting limits on screen usage for the whole family. It won’t keep them from avoiding you entirely, but it will help your family to communicate more often.

Set Family Time

Another way to get communication going, or bolster what you already have, is to set specific times where the family gets together to talk. This could be family meals every day, a check in at the end of the day to sit down and talk about what’s been going on, family weekends, and other times. While this shouldn’t be the only time your tween can talk to you, if they know there’s a time, every day, where they can share what they’re doing and that they know you’ll listen, it’ll help them open up.

Practice Active Listening

Another effective tactic is to be an active listener. Pay attention to what your preteen is saying when they talk, and ask questions within certain boundaries. Ask after their feelings and what’s happening, and if they don’t want to share, only push if you think it’s a major emergency or important. In short, if they want to tell you something, show that you’re interested in what they’re saying.

Be Involved

Tweens do want you involved in their lives, to some extent — it just may not be to the degree you used to be involved. They may start deciding there are things they don’t need to tell you, and provided they’re not things you need to know, that’s something you should respect. But keep an ear open, help them out, and step in when they need it.

Need more help with getting your tween to open up? Just concerned about how much time they spend online? Learn more about parental control software.

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5 Creative Activities To Lure Your Kids Away From Their Screens during Summer Break

by Anna Hughes on July 10, 2017
Guest Blogger, James Goldsmith, shares his ideas on how to get the kids to put their creative skills to good use outdoors this summer.

As parents, we all know that technology is a wonderful thing to have. However, it can sometimes seem as if our children would much rather be glued to the TV, tablets or games consoles, rather than spending time outside. This means that we need to think of clever and interesting ways to draw them away from the screens and out into the glorious sunshine.

There are many ways in which children can develop as people such as learning a musical instrument.

We have put together 5 creative activities that you can use to lure your kids away from their tech during the summer season. Most of which won’t cause you too much of a headache to arrange.

Camping in the garden

There is something pretty awesome about sleeping under the stars, even if you do so in your own garden. A great way to get the kids outside is to promise them with a backyard camping trip. They get a sense of going on holiday, but you don’t ever have to leave the house.

You could even combine this with a den building exercise, getting them to build a little den to accompany their tent, creating a real sense of camp!

Building a bug hotel

We are lucky to have a real variety of bugs living in our gardens, which means that we should make an effort to look after them best we can. One way that you can encourage your kids to help you is to make a bug hotel together. This fun, outdoor activity gets them messy and hands on plus it helps them to learn more about the wildlife that is around them.

Growing vegetables and fruits

Not only is this a great way to get your kids outside, but it is also beneficial for fussy eaters too. Growing their own vegetables and fruit introduces them to a variety of foods, and they get to see how it grows and becomes something that they can eat. This is great for their learning and means that you can make an effort to get in the kitchen and transform your hard-grown veggies into a delicious treat that the whole family can enjoy together.

Encourage them to become budding photographers

Kids love taking pictures, although these usually come in the form of a misjudged picture of the family pet. Why not set them their very own photography project? Get them out in the garden or local area (under supervision of course) and encourage them to snap different things. This could be animals, buildings or anything that takes their fancy.  You can then print these pictures and create a photo album that they can keep! Perhaps even repeating the pictures in the different seasons to see how things change over time.

Get out the arts and crafts

You will be hard-pressed to find a kid who doesn’t love getting creative. So, why not take advantage of the sunshine, and get your kids to try kite making? There are lots of free videos and step-by-step guides available on the internet, with different levels of difficulty.  This can cater for younger children, right the way up to teenagers.

Hopefully, this has given you some inspiration for ways to get your kids away from the screen, and trying out other things this summer break. It doesn’t always have to be big adventures. Sometimes the backyard or the local area can be interesting enough to keep their attention.

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**New Feature** Pause your kids in an instant!

by Anna Hughes on July 6, 2017
We here at Screen Time are excited to announce the arrival of Instant Pause!

What’s this?!

It’s a button that allows you to instantly pause your kid’s device from your own. Just like you would press a button on your remote to pause a film or a TV show. Tap a button on your device and your kid’s phone or tablet will just…stop. Done. No Minecraft. No Snapchat. ‘Can I just take a quick selfie?’ they’ll say.

Nope!

Cool! But is it fiddly getting their phone up and running again?

Absolutely not. Just press the Play button on your handset and the kids’ devices are back in business, just as they were before.

Wow! Sounds great. But what happens to the original Play/Pause feature?

We love hearing your suggestions about how to improve our Screen Time app. The original ‘Play/Pause’ feature has been a huge hit with our subscribers. But some of you have suggested that a more simplified version would make the feature even better. We agree.

Picture the scene: You’re running late for school, you need to get everyone out of the door, but the kids’ are lying flat on the sofa, heavily engrossed in their phones or tablets. As is always the case in such scenarios, their ears stop working entirely, despite your best efforts to get their attention. Rather than waste your breath, just whip out your phone, open up the Screen Time app and tap the ‘Pause’ button that appears by their profile pics.

And away you all go. It really is as simple as that. No faffing with setting timings while in panic mode. No school detentions for being late.

In other news…

We bring you Free Play mode.

Oh?! Tell me more!

Maybe your in-laws are coming to stay and you need extra time to prepare. Maybe you’re about to attempt a long, hot car journey with the whole family for summer vacation. Or maybe you simply need a longer-than-normal break from your kids and want to put your feet up for a change!

Free Play mode allows your kids to use their device freely, without impacting any of the Time Limits you would normally have in place. The beauty of this new and improved Free Play mode is that when you are ready to switch it off, your normal Screen Time settings are resumed. So if ever your kids are treated to a screen-athon, you can quickly get a handle on their screen time once again with a simple tap.

So there you have it. You spoke. We listened. And we can’t wait to hear what you think! Give it a try and do let us know your thoughts in the comments below or contact us via Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

 

 

 

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The Parent’s Guide to Minimizing Screen Time on Vacation

by Anna Hughes on July 6, 2017
It's summer, and that means kids have lots of free time — free time they tend to spend playing with tablets and phones instead of outside in the sun.

Especially on vacation, you want your kids to do more than just play games in the air conditioning all day. So how do you keep screen time to a minimum, and make your family vacation one to remember?

iPhone parental controls

Leave The Screens At Home

You should, of course, take a phone with you when you go on vacation, but do you (or your kids) really need the tablet or the laptop? As much as possible, leave your screens at home. Bring board games instead of tablets, books instead of e-readers, and, if it makes sense, only bring one smartphone. Bring a disposable camera for photos and a travel alarm clock, if you’re worried about not having those available. If you’re flying, this will have a nice fringe benefit: You’ll have more room in your luggage.

Set A Good Example

Kids pick up behaviors from parents, so if you spend all day looking at a screen, they’ll do the same thing. Set limits and standards for your whole family and keep each other accountable. As your kids see you put down the screen and go outside, they’ll follow. And remember, when you leave, put your screen down and make your kids do the same.

Set Limits Before You Leave

Sit the whole family down and set screen limits and expectations before you leave on the trip. For example, you might say that tablets are fine when you’re traveling, like on an airplane or in the car; however, once you get to your destination, they go off and they stay off during the day and only come out after dinner. It’ll depend on your vacation and where you’re going, so talk about reasonable rules and make sure your kids both participate in setting the rules and understand why the rules are the way they are. Also, don’t hesitate to take screens away — from kids and adults alike — if the rules get broken.

iPhone parental controls

Get on the road, not on the app.

Have A Lot To Do

Another way to keep screens off is to ensure that your vacation is full of things to do and places to go. Before you get on the plane or behind the wheel, spend some time as a family picking out a bunch of activities and ideas to explore where you’re going. Theme parks, natural wonders, parks and recreation, historical monuments, museums — all of these let you both learn more about the area you’re going to and make the trip one to remember.

Use Locks And Timers

Don’t forget you can also enforce the rules with the tools on your screens. A timer app can ensure certain apps, or even the whole device, isn’t accessible before a set time and locks after a set time. And parental controls can ensure kids stick to just a handful of apps.

Screen time can cut into family time, but only if you let it happen. By taking control of your family’s screens, you’ll get closer together and enjoy your vacation much more. If you want to control screen use while on vacation (and at home!), learn more about Screen Time.

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*New Feature Launching on Thursday!*

by Anna Hughes on July 3, 2017
We here at Screen Time are excited to announce the imminent arrival of ‘Instant Pause’!

What’s this?!

It’s a button that allows you to instantly pause your kid’s device from your own. Just like you would press a button on your remote to pause a film or a TV show. Tap a button on your device and your kid’s phone or tablet will just…stop. Done. No Minecraft. No Snapchat. ‘Can I just take a quick selfie?’ they’ll say.

Nope!

Cool! But is it fiddly getting their phone up and running again?

Absolutely not. Just press the Play button on your handset and the kids’ devices are back in business, just as they were before.

Wow! Sounds great. But what happens to the original Play/Pause feature?

We love hearing your suggestions about how to improve our Screen Time app. The original ‘Play/Pause’ feature has been a huge hit with our subscribers. But some of you have suggested that a more simplified version would make the feature even better. We agree.

Picture the scene: You’re running late for school, you need to get everyone out of the door, but the kids’ are lying flat on the sofa, heavily engrossed in their phones or tablets. As is always the case in such scenarios, their ears stop working entirely, despite your best efforts to get their attention. Rather than waste your breath, just whip out your phone, open up the Screen Time app and tap the ‘Pause’ button that appears by their profile pics.

And away you all go. It really is as simple as that. No faffing with setting timings while in panic mode. No school detentions for being late.

In other news…

We bring you Free Play mode.

Oh?! Tell me more!

Maybe your in-laws are coming to stay and you need extra time to prepare. Maybe you’re about to attempt a long, hot car journey with the whole family for summer vacation. Or maybe you simply need a longer-than-normal break from your kids and want to put your feet up for a change!

Free Play mode allows your kids to use their device freely, without impacting any of the Time Limits you would normally have in place. The beauty of this new and improved Free Play mode is that when you are ready to switch it off, your normal Screen Time settings are resumed. So if ever your kids are treated to a screen-athon, you can quickly get a handle on their screen time once again with a simple tap.

So there you have it. You spoke. We listened. And we can’t wait to hear what you think after it launches on Thursday! Do let us know your thoughts in the comments below or contact us via Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

 

 

 

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The Dos and Don’ts of Parenting a Constantly-Connected Child

by Anna Hughes on June 29, 2017
How do you ensure your kids don't spend all day with their noses in an iPad? It's a tough question for many parents, especially as kids start using computers, tablets, and smartphones in school and at home more often. So, to ensure they have a healthy relationship with technology, here are some dos and don'ts for parental control of screen time.

DO: Have Clear Boundaries and Limits

Sit your children down and talk to them about their screen time and how they use their devices. Ask them how and why they use screens; how much time is spent on homework, how much on games, and how much chatting with friends? Once you establish that, then set boundaries, like time limits, lists of sites they can visit, and rules of behavior, and make clear why you’re setting them. You have the final word, of course, but let your kids feel like they’re participating and they have a say in how they use screens.

DON’T: Model Bad Behavior

Kids learn about life and how to deal with it from their parents. Do you spend all night bingeing on Netflix? Do you goof off on your phone for hours on the weekend? If you do, and you’re asking your children not to do those things, then you may need to put the phone down yourself.

DO: Use Parental Controls

The internet can be a child-unfriendly place — not just in the obvious ways —and kids simply may not understand what they’re looking at. One parent has a hilarious cautionary tale about her child, who loves Frozen, and how they handed her a phone without a restricted YouTube app. It’s an extreme example, but it illustrates how even seemingly “safe” sites can go downhill fast for parents.

Parental control

Screen time needs boundaries.

DON’T: Ignore What They’re Doing Otherwise

The internet, for better or for worse, is part of our lives, just like work, school, and friends. And just like those things, there’s positive interactions and negative ones. Kids aren’t necessarily going to open up spontaneously about problems like bullying or other emotional cruelty, or they might be talking to people who seem rational but might not have positive ends. Does it matter what your child might be talking about with a person calling themselves HotTime4U, even if there’s nothing wrong with the chats you see? Even if all their time online is positive, make a point of asking about it. It’s a part of their life, and remember it’s a two-way street.

DO: Embrace the Anger

There are going to be points where you’ll have to take the internet away from your children. Even the best kids will occasionally break the rules. And if kids have formed specific habits to this point, they may not enjoy breaking them. That’s OK. Kids will be angry!

DON’T: Let It Go Unremarked

But, once they’ve calmed down, talk to them about what happened, make sure they understand why it happened, why parental control is necessary, and why their reaction isn’t OK. Use a lack of access as a teaching moment. Help them understand why they’re so attached to the internet, and question their use of it for everything. Ideally, as your kids get a better sense of boundaries and what’s healthy and what’s not online, it won’t be a conversation you’ll have to have too often.

If you’re ready to start setting boundaries, we can help. Contact us about how to build a better, healthier relationship with screens.

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Are Your Tween’s Mobile Devices Affecting Their Attention Span?

by Anna Hughes on June 22, 2017
Adults have been lamenting the pitiable attention spans of the next generation for a long time. Your parents or teachers probably complained about your generation’s ability to pay attention, and they may have even blamed it on technology – television, video games, maybe even computers.

Today’s adults worry that their children’s attention spans are being reduced by smartphones, tablets, digital music players, and the internet in general. But are they right? Here’s what you need to know about mobile devices and attention spans.

Do Mobile Devices Reduce Attention Spans?

iPhone parental controls

It is harder for your child to focus on books when a mobile device is right in front of them.

Research suggests that the human attention span really is on the decline. Advertisers, who must understand what kind of attention span they’re working with in order to sell products, note that they have less time than ever to grab the audience’s attention and make a point. If they take more than a few seconds, they lose the attention of the intended audience.

And what affects the general public affects children too. Teachers report that their students are more easily distracted than ever and that what’s distracting them is their digital devices. So it seems clear that mobile devices are, in fact, having a negative effect on children’s ability to pay attention for longer periods of time.

Is There Good News?

IPhone parental controls

On the other hand, mobile devices help children become effective researchers and multitaskers.

It’s important to note that the news is not all bad. Surveys of teachers indicate that digital technology has also improved their students’ approaches to research and that internet-connected devices increase students’ abilities to switch between tasks. In other words, today’s students are great at finding information and multi-tasking.

One might theorize that children’s brains are adapting to a world where a long attention span is less useful than the ability to locate needed information quickly and juggle several tasks at once. And many of today’s working adults might agree that those skills are important in today’s job market. Children may be learning just what they need to be successful adults in a world where mobile devices and the internet are indispensable work tools.

Finding A Balance

Obviously, you still want your child to have a reasonably long attention span. At the same time, you want them to get the benefits that come from being comfortable with mobile devices and the internet. The key, of course, is moderation.

Your children should use their mobile devices for educational and entertainment purposes, but they shouldn’t overuse them. And when they aren’t using them, they should do things that help build a healthy attention span.

For example, exercise is good for cognitive control as well as physical fitness. Encourage your child to join a sports team or engage in physical play. There are lots of benefits to that, and an increased attention span is just one of them. Classical music is also believed to improve your ability to pay attention – consider encouraging a musically-inclined child to learn an instrument and join the school band or orchestra.

Mobile devices aren’t going anywhere, so it’s up to you to help your child get the benefits from them without absorbing the negative aspects. Parental control software can help you set limits and encourage healthy balance and boundaries in your child’s internet use. To find out how, try it for free.

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3 Unique Challenges for Parents in the Digital Age

by Anna Hughes on June 15, 2017
There are some challenges that parents have always had to face, like ensuring that their children learn the things they’ll need to know to be successful adults and protecting them from dangerous people and situations. However, other challenges change with the times. Thanks to the advent of the digital age, you face challenges with your children that your parents probably never had to think about, like how to handle cyberbullying. Other challenges have been changed or enhanced – for instance, while parents in previous generations may have worried about too much screen time in terms of television, you have to figure out how to handle exposure to multiple types of screens. Here are some of the unique challenges faced by digital-age parents and how to handle them.

Cyberbullying 

Parental control

Cyberbullies can accompany your children home through their mobile devices.

Although bullying is not a new phenomenon, the internet has drastically changed the landscape of how schools, parents, and children must respond. Previously, even a child who was dealing with severe bullying could at least escape into the safety of their home. Now, however, bullies can follow children into their safest spaces thanks to the internet connected devices that go everywhere with them.

Telling children to ignore a bully doesn’t necessarily work either – even if the devices are turned off, bullies can use the internet to spread hurtful messages or images that have a much wider reach than any note passed in class.

Be aware of your child’s school’s policy on cyberbullying, and stay alert for the signs that your child is being bullied. The sooner the issue can be identified and addressed, the better chance you have of stopping it before it gets out of hand. It’s important to also be aware of your own child’s actions online. Many children are both victims of and participating in cyberbullying themselves. Helping your child practice appropriate behavior online can prevent them from becoming a target.

Screen Time

Parental control

With appropriate limits, your child can enjoy screen time, but also have plenty of offline activities.

How much screen time is too much? It’s a complex question. Simply banning internet-connected devices until a child reaches their teen or adult years is becoming less and less realistic. Computers, tablets, and smartphones have real value as educational tools as well as entertainment devices. Also, digital communication is the new normal, and eschewing that entirely sets your child up for social isolation and fails to prepare them for adult life.

On the other hand, internet addiction is real, and there is definitely such a thing as too much of a good thing. Balance is the key to managing screen time. Children need firm limits on when and how much they can use their devices, and establishing these limits now will help them learn to set limits for themselves later in life. They also need encouragement to participate in offline, non-screen based activities.

Online Predators

It’s no secret that predators have learned how to use the internet to find and exploit vulnerable children. Protecting your child from scary strangers is no longer just a matter of telling them not to get in strange cars or answer the door when they’re home alone. Children may feel safe in anonymous forums and apps, posting from their own homes, and they can easily be led to reveal too much to the wrong person.

Teach your child how to stay safe on social media and in apps. They should know how to hide their personal information and how to report and block any inappropriate communications they receive in a given online environment. Communication is key here as well. You should know where your children are going online and who they’re talking to.

A parental control app can help you provide the limits and monitoring that your children need to stay safe in the digital age. To find out how you can use this tool to help meet parenting challenges, try it for free.

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The 3 Most Popular Mobile Games for Tweens

by Anna Hughes on June 8, 2017
Mobile games designed for tablets or smartphones can be endlessly entertaining for kids, and in the summer months when school is not in session, they’re especially in need of extra entertainment. However, there are all kinds of mobile games out there, and not all of them are appropriate for your child.

You may want to be involved in picking out some games for your tween that are challenging enough to keep them engaged, but not inappropriate for their age. Here are some of the popular mobile games that are perfectly suited for tweens.

DIY App – Creative Community for Kids

Parental control software

Your child will feel a sense of achievement when they share their DIY projects with others.

Your tween is old enough that they’re probably interested in social media sites, but may still be too young for most of the major ones. This app can help encourage your kids in their interests, hobbies, and creative pursuits and allow them to share their work with an online community that’s safe for children their age.

The app is a companion to the DIY website, where children can post about DIY projects of all kinds, ranging from gardening and craft projects to science experiments and Lego buildings. Users earn patches for completing three projects in any category. The app allows your kids to browse for project ideas, and to upload pictures of their completed projects to the website easily. The projects will help keep your child entertained on and offline, and they’ll get the chance to be part of a social media community that’s creative, supportive, and age-appropriate.

Box Island

Box Island is both an entertaining story-based adventure game and an introduction to basic computer programming and coding skills. The premise of the story is that the protagonist, Hiro the Box, is on Box Island and must complete an adventure, encountering various enemies and obstacles along the way. Players use programming tools to help Hiro advance.

The game is played in levels that get progressively more difficult as the game goes on. The app is free to download and the first ten levels of the game are free, with further levels available for purchase if desired. The gender-neutral Hiro makes the game appealing to both boys and girls who are interested in adventure games and coding.

Adventure Time Game Wizard – Draw Your Own Adventure Time Games

Parental control software

Your children can have fun and indulge their creativity with the help of some favorite cartoon characters.

Fans of the cartoon series Adventure Time will love this app, which is guided by Adventure Time characters Finn and Jake. The app has three different modes: Adventure Mode, Create Mode, and Arcade Mode. Adventure Mode has Finn and Jake discover a magic book that Finn can use to sketch himself, and players help Finn in his battles with various enemies, like the Doodle Wizard.

Kids can unleash their creativity in Create Mode, where they can design their own levels for the game. In Arcade Mode, they can share their creations and browse and play levels created by other users.

Helping your kids choose mobile games that are age appropriate and fun is an important part of managing their screen time. It’s also important to ensure that your tweens strike a balance between playing online and engaging in indoor and outdoor activities offline as well. Parental control software can help you help your child find that balance. To find out how parental control software can work for you, try it for free.

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