Today’s app space is jam-packed with apps for young children! But, we know very little about how parents decide what apps to select for young users. In a new study, CcaM researchers - Francette Broekman, Jessica Piotrowski, Hans Beentjes, and Patti Valkenburg - sought to shed light on this process.
So, how did they do it? And what did they learn? First, Broekman and colleagues conducted 20 in-depth interviews with parents to get a better sense of the types of features that parents think are important for young children. These interviews revealed 23 different features that parents consider important.
With this information in hand, Broekman and colleagues then designed a survey to see how these 23 features were rated by a broader sample of parents. A total of 591 parents of children aged 3 to 7 participated in the survey. Results showed that these 23 features broke down into 4 groups with different levels of “importance”.
Specifically, they found that 47.7% of parents identified features which support “clear design” as important or very important when selecting apps for their children (i.e., 47.7% of all responding parents [N = 591] found the items loading on the factor “clear design” as important or very important). This consists of features such as clear and simple shapes, colors, moving objects, friendly characters, a clear purpose, and interactivity.
Nearly 40% of all parents also identified features which support “challenge and reward” as important in apps. This consists of features that refer to entertaining content, offering new content, rewards and challenges, and an option to customize. Similarly, nearly 40% of all parents identified features which support “tailored, controlled learning” as important when selecting apps for their children. This consists of features that are tailored to age as well as enhance knowledge and skills, incorporate parental control settings, have an educational component (knowledge, skills, social, school-based, or creative), and provide in-app support.
Interestingly, the least important set of features (noted by 4.7% of parents as important or very important) were those which support “use of technology”. This consists of features which capitalize on the affordances of touch screen technology (e.g., reactive sound, coplay,multitouch, sliding).
With this information in hand, Broekman and colleagues then investigated whether these identified features actually link to parents expressed needs (see Broekman et al, 2016). And indeed, consistent with theory, they do. But, as they found, the degree and manner to which parents express needs and select apps is intertwined with children’s age and gender in unique ways. It seems that parents carefully consider their child’s age and gender when reflecting on the opportunity of apps for their children, and in doing so, this influences their needs associated with apps as well as the apps they ultimately select.
For app designers, the big take-away seems to be that clear design is far more important to parents than the bells and whistles that technological features might provide. And along with that, it is important to remember that “clear design” for one age group may be complex for another. Age matters, so target with care!
To learn more about this research or receive a copy of this work, please contact Jessica Piotrowski (
Complete reference: Broekman, F., Piotrowski, J.T., Beentjes, H.W.J., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2018 – Online First). App features that fulfill parents’ needs in apps for children. Mobile Media & Communication. doi: 10.1177/2050157918759571