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Andrew Kao is the co-founder of 77 Sparx, an award-winning children’s educational game studio. Based on data gathered from users of Puzzingo Puzzles, a series of children’s apps, Andrew shares his findings on how parents purchase and use mobile apps.

Whenever I tell parents that I am a co-founder of a startup that builds children’s apps, I usually get a mix of reactions. Some think it’s great that we make apps that their kids enjoy, but many times, I meet parents who don’t allow their young kids access to Apple or Android devices. There is clearly a perception among some parents that these apps are simply “digital babysitters” that aren’t good for kids. This perception is reinforced by organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics which has issued recommendations that kids younger than two be “screen-free,” and that screen time should be limited for older kids.

As a maker of educational apps that target kids between the ages of two and five, parents’ attitudes on these issues are very important to us. To better understand how parents are purchasing and using apps, we decided to conduct a survey of our customer base.

Infographic - kids with apps

To start with, we were very interested to find out which parent is most likely to purchase apps for their kids. We found that the vast majority (88%) of the purchases where made by women. Furthermore, we discovered that 63% of the purchases are made by a parent ages 25-34, by far the largest cohort. This corresponds well to the expected age of moms with young children.

In the second part of the survey, we wanted to find out if parents purchase apps as a sort of digital babysitter. First, we wanted to understand how much truth there is in the stereotype that parents are simply handing phones to children and disengaging from the play experience. As it turns out, a very healthy 39% of parents play apps with their kids, while 9% of kids play with siblings, and 4% play with friends. Our data shows that 53% of kids sometimes play alone. While this number is substantial, the percentage of parents who “co-play” is not far behind.

We also asked parents about their personal reasons for downloading apps. We know that fun factor and educational value are two important criteria for purchase. Based on the survey result, we discovered a virtual tie between these two value propositions – 49% of parents reported that educational value was more important, while 46% valued the fun factor.

Lastly, we wanted to get a sense for when parents let kids play apps. We believe that there’s a common stereotype that parents are predominantly using devices to distract kids while driving or doing chores. As it turns out, 53% of parents let kids play with devices whenever the kids ask. This is followed by parents who let kids play when they need a distraction (22%), when they want to create a learning experience (18%), and when they are driving (17%). Based on this data, we believe that while keeping kids occupied is an important driver, learning and general play are also common reasons to allow children to engage with mobile devices.

In conclusion, our survey confirms that young moms are the primary purchaser of kids’ apps. Additionally, our data paints a nuanced picture of how parents are using these apps with their kids. While many of the stereotypical use cases are common, it’s clear that co-playing and learning via apps, are important factors that parents consider. As app developers, our challenge is to continue to meet both sets of needs responsibly, by designing engaging and educational products.

Andrew Kao, Co-Founder at 77SPARX

77SPARX Studio is a maker of quality children’s apps such as PUZZINGO Puzzles. Please visit us at http://www.77sparx.com or email info@77sparx.com

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3 Responses to “Guest Post: Are Young Children’s Apps Babysitters for the Digital Age?”

  1. WideAwakeGames

    Great article and I like the infographic. As a former homeschooling parent I’d like to point out that fun factor and education value are not mutually exclusive :-)

    I also think that for younger kids the tablet format with large colorful graphics are the way to go. It would be interesting to see what percentage of parent used their own phone versus a tablet in the house.

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