Top Apps for Guilt-Free Screen Time for Kids

How does it make you feel to hand over your phone or tablet to your kids to keep them occupied? Guilty? Sometimes you just have to do it. But every day there are more apps and streaming services launching new great programming—exciting and thoughtfully designed—to appeal to kids, get them thinking and make parents comfortable, too.

Here’s a tour of some great apps, plus guidelines to help you manage screen time.

Best apps for kids and parents

To upgrade your children’s screen time, find a few kid-friendly apps that are both educational and helpful to you as a parent.

Most of these apps are designed for smartphones and tablets, but you may also want to check out Alexa games for kids. Many of these are free online games for kids or have a modest cost to download. iPad games for kids are fun for road trips, downtime or on the go.

Apps for kids under 5

For the youngest app users, try some learning games for kids that are easy to navigate.

“Endless Alphabet”

Word definitions and letter arranging are the focus of this puzzle game, where your child can drag and drop letters and watch cute animations.  

Where to download: Apple, Google, Amazon, Windows

“Hungry Caterpillar Play School”

Based on the popular children’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle, this is an educational app covering ABCs, counting, art and more.

Where to download: Apple, Google, Amazon

“Goodness Shapes”

Really cute graphics, a slower game pace and a focus on shapes and colors makes this app a fun game for preschoolers.

Where to download: Apple

Apps for kids 5 to 8

Elementary-aged kids can start building more independence with their screen and smartphone use. These educational apps for kids inspire creativity and encourage them to think.

“Crazy Gears”

“Crazy Gears” doesn’t have any instructions—it’s just STEM-skill building as kids figure out and put together fun gear combinations themselves.

Where to download: Apple

“The Little Line”

This adorable app lets kids interact with the storyline by creating their own drawings.

Where to download: Apple, Google

“Thinkrolls”

Logic puzzles help young kids develop reasoning and problem-solving skills through engaging gameplay. 

Where to download: Apple, Google, Amazon

Apps for kids 9 to 12

For your preteen, these apps encourage curiosity, mental focus and confidence.

“Arloon Geometry”

This educational app lets kids learn fun facts and visualize geometric shapes using augmented reality. Great for building spatial reasoning.

Where to download: Apple, Google

“Brainfeed”

For kids who like to learn with videos, preselected ones on a variety of different educational topics are available here. 

Where to download: Apple

“Middle School Confidential”

With topics such as “Be Confident in Who You Are,” this app series is designed as digital graphic novels with true-to-life themes your kid will want to read.

Where to download: Apple, Amazon

Make smart media decisions with your kids

Doing your own research on kids and screen time can help you make the right choices for your family. Once you’ve done your homework, consider meeting with your kids and setting expectations for their screen time. Giving your kids clear guidelines to follow helps reduce potential conflict and makes your job as a parent easier.

Don’t worry about making a mistake—setting screen time rules is a learning process. It may be helpful to talk to other parents and find out what they’re doing with their kids. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for every family, but you can gather information and make informed choices about what (and how) your kids watch and play on their screens.

Is screen time bad for kids?

How much screen time for kids is best depends largely on their age. Intentional screen time rules should reflect where your child is in terms of their mental and emotional development.

Kids 2 and under

Very young children should have minimal screen time. Although some videos claim to make babies smarter, there really isn’t a tangible benefit, and screen time at that age may actually be harmful, according to the Mayo Clinic. Under age two, children usually don’t remember the content they see on screens, meaning there’s little educational value.

Kids 2 to 5

At this age, up to an hour of screen time per day is fine, as long as you choose high-quality media. It’s preferable that kids not watch TV or play games alone. If you can, make the experience interactive.

Kids 5 and up

Now that your child is growing to be a bit more independent, you can (and should) consider their personality and what’s best for their maturity level, school responsibilities and other factors.

With any age, less is often more. When your kids are using devices or watching screens, try to do what you can to make it a positive experience that you can monitor.

How to manage your children’s screen time

Parental control apps

These are not apps for your kids per se—they’re apps to help you set viewing limits, restrict content and more. Take a look at Bark, Qustodio and FamiSafe for starters.

No matter your child’s age, here are a few helpful hints for setting boundaries and managing screen time:

  • Keep it age appropriate. It’s not just the usual suspects, such as violence. Sometimes the content might be confusing or too sophisticated for your kids, and only you know that.
  • Preview media. Ideally, you should investigate what your kids are watching or doing with their screen time. Watch an episode with them, read a synopsis online or read up on their favorite YouTuber. It’s not about spying on your kids—it’s about being an informed parent. Common Sense Media is a great online resource.
  • Family movie night. Having regular movie or TV nights with your kids is a great way to spend time together, show an interest in your children’s interests and find teachable moments. You can even sneak in valuable lessons for your kids by talking about what you’re watching.
  • Enforce limits. Tech-free time periods (such as dinner) and zones of the house (such as kids’ bedrooms) are worthwhile boundaries parents can set. Consider keeping smartphone chargers in the kitchen, so kids are forced to have screen-free bedtimes.
  • Be a good example. Your children see what you do. If you’re watching six hours of TV a day, your children will probably want to do so, too. Keeping your own smartphone and TV use in check will help you set the right example for your kids and promote better screen time for all.

App availability and product features may have changed and are subject to change.