This App Will Help You Make Smart Media Choices for Your Kids

Image via Common Sense Media

Raising kids today in this world of technology is a lot different than it used to be, particularly when it comes to how easily they can be exposed to all of the new media. Everything from the hundreds of TV channels, millions of Internet sites, movies, video games, apps, books and more. What can parents do to ensure their children are not exposed to inappropriate material?

I asked my son and daughter-in-law, who are raising two boys, age 8 and 12, what they do. They told me about an app and website they’ve been using for several years and raved about it. It’s called Common Sense Media. Unlike other sites that focus on one area of media or another, this product is a one-stop source for everything your kids will encounter, and it offers a comprehensive analysis of each.

The company’s mission is to be “the leading independent nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology. We empower parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.”

There is no advertising, therefore there is no influence on their ratings and reviews. The app and web client rates over 25,000 movies, apps, games, websites and TV programs, with the goal of helping parents determine what to avoid and what to embrace. Each rating provides enough information to make an intelligent decision, including the level of violence, objectionable language, sex, and much more. Not only are there reviews from experts, but also additional reviews from kids and parents.

To try it out, I used the app to check out a terrific movie I recently saw. “Lion” is the story of a 5-year-old boy who became separated from his family in India after getting onto a train that took him 600 miles from home. Would this be suitable for my 12-year-old grandson? As I remembered the movie, I didn’t recall any violence, bad language, or nudity, but I thought I’d check out what Common Sense said about it.

The site’s assessment listed the positive messages in the film, including the power of family bonds, and noted the positive themes of compassion, gratitude, and perseverance. It described the positive role models of the boy’s adoptive parents as being loving, generous, and supportive. But under violence, it also noted some of the disturbing scenes of endangered, homeless, and orphaned street children in India. It looked at the level of consumerism, and noted how the product, Google Earth, is featured prominently. And, finally, it notes under “Drinking drugs and smoking” that there is some cigarette smoking.

It received a 4 out of 5-star rating and a recommendation for ages 13 and older. The overall rating was based on the following: Positive messages: 4/5, Positive Role Models: 4/5, Violence: 3/5, Sex: 3/5, Language: 3/5, Consumerism: 2/5, and Smoking, drugs: 2/5

A useful section describes a number of topics that a family can discuss after watching the movie, and there were ratings from children who saw the movie.

Now imagine this level of detail on tens of thousands of movies, apps, games, websites, and TV shows with similar depth and detail.

One very interesting section on the home page is called Parent Concerns. It provides useful information on such topics as Character Strengths and Life Skills; Technology Addiction; Screen Time; Cyberbullying, Haters, and Trolls; Privacy and Internet Safety; Facebook, Instagram, and Social; Cell Phone Parenting; and Violence in the Media.

The site also lets you search for media that meets your criteria, such as books for a 6-year-old. It came up with 3370 selections. Or you can check out the “Best Lists” that contain selections from the website’s editors, where you can get age-appropriate ideas and inspiration for every interest: Best Movies for Kids, Best Games for Kids, Best Apps for Kids, Best Websites for Kids, Best TV for Kids, Best Books for Kids, Best Music for Kids, Best for Character Development for Kids, and Best for Learning for Kids

There’s a huge amount of depth that goes well beyond the ratings, including movie trailers, showtimes, and more. I can understand why my son says it’s a site he depends upon and uses many times each week.

Finally, the website is not built around censorship, but steering parents to healthy media and steering them away from things that are developmentally inappropriate.

Free apps are available from both the Apple App store and Google Play, and each is rated at 4/5.

While today’s technology can expose our kids to a lot more risks, Common Sense Media uses technology to provide great help in reducing these risks and making good choices.