Teens are on their phones 24/7. This might alarm some parents, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing — phones are powerful supercomputers that can help users learn many skills.
You can take advantage of the educational power of apps by making sure your teen has access to some of the best educational apps on the market. As you probably already know, there are apps for absolutely everything — science, photography, writing, entertainment — the list is endless. Apps can even be a gateway to skills like coding and programming; there are, for example, apps that offer scratch programming for kids and teenagers. In fact, if your child loves playing with apps, they may even be inspired to create their own, with an app development course for kids.
With the wealth of educational applications available, it can be overwhelming to help your kid find the best (and most appropriate) apps for them. But the right apps are out there and good news: many of them are free.
So which apps should you encourage your kids to choose? Below is a list of the best apps for the teens in your life. Some are educational apps, some are creative apps and (because life is about more than school) some apps are simply fun. All are easily found on iTunes and Google Play.
Homework helping apps
Often teens need just a little help with their homework when they get home from school. These apps will give your kids the boost they need, organize projects and research and help them research subjects they might be interested in, but are not learning in class.
Teens today have a lot of homework and might find it overwhelming to manage it all. myHomework is a free student planner that helps your students manage their homework and other projects. The app allows students to keep track of assignments for each of their classes, prioritize the tasks that need to be done and track their homework. The app sends reminders about homework and also lets kids manage their schedules. One of the excellent things about this app is that it does not need the internet to work, so even when kids don’t have Wi-Fi, their homework planner is still available.
Khan Academy (11 and up)
Khan Academy’s app is free and offers teens access to classes in almost any subject. The app has thousands of interactive exercises, videos, and articles on all kinds of subject materials, so teens can read up on anything they choose or get a little extra homework help without having to schedule time with a tutor. It’s one of the best apps, offering comprehensive classes for free.
Evernote (13 and up)
Evernote is a comprehensive productivity app that lets users read, write, edit, save, send, and share almost anything, from notes to documents to audio to drawings. This free app wasn’t specifically designed for young users, but it’s one of the best apps for teens who do their schoolwork online, because it keeps its users so organized.
Language can be a challenge for some kids. These apps make learning language fun by serving up lessons in games and very small, easy to remember lessons.
MindSnacks is a series of free apps that help your kid study languages on their phones, but they’re cleverly disguised as fast-moving games. The apps are free but cost $4.99 for more content beyond the first lesson.
DuoLingo (13 and up)
For kids who love learning new languages, DuoLingo is a free gamified app that helps users learn to speak different languages on the go. Learners can practice reading, writing, speaking, listening and conversation with intelligent Chatbots. There’s also a wide array of languages to choose from on the app, so kids can shop around, finding the best language for them before committing to a class.
If your teenager is a reader (or likes to listen to their books) these apps will keep their favorite books as close as their pockets.
Kindle (11 and up)
Does your teen like to read? You don’t need a Kindle to use the Kindle app. This app will turn any device into a Kindle and offer your teen access to both their Amazon library and Amazon’s free books. Be aware, however, that you may need to put controls in place to make sure your teen isn’t ordering books without asking first — Amazon’s apps are designed to sell books to users.
Audible (11 and up)
Audible is another app from Amazon. Rather than delivering books to your device, Audible allows users to listen to audiobooks. With some membership plans, you’ll get credits every month that can be used to purchase audiobooks. However because Audible is not an app made specifically for teens, you’ll still want to scan your kid’s account to make sure there’s no inappropriate activity or purchases.
OverDrive (all ages)
Want a reading app with no purchases? OverDrive is an app that connects directly to your local library’s digital collection. Readers can check out e-books, audiobooks and streaming videos from their library’s collection. You do need a library card with a participating library to use OverDrive, but otherwise, it’s completely free. There aren’t even overdue fees, because digital material is automatically returned when your lending time is up.
Math can be difficult for some teens — and for the parents who try to help with homework. These apps will help your teens with math when you’re both stuck on a problem.
IXL- Math and English (ages 5 to 18)
This app is both a math and language arts app. It offers users unlimited interactive math and language questions and covers a range of ages too. So while your teenager can use the app to learn how to graph quadratic equations, younger siblings can also use it for their own math questions. Some of the easier material might be inappropriate for older kids, but they can simply use it to focus on the math skills they need. This app is also aligned with Common Core Standards, so it should be helpful for kids who are stuck on homework.
Photomath (ages 5 to 18)
This app is designed to help users with specific math problems. Kids can take a picture of a problem they’re stuck on. They’re then treated to step-by-step solutions and tips. This free app is helpful for checking homework, studying for tests and simply learning math.
GeoGebra Graphing Calculator (All ages)
If your child is taking advanced math, like algebra, pre-calculus, or calculus, they’ll need a graphing calendar. Graphing calculators used to be one of the most expensive school supplies on the back-to-school shopping list. This free app turns your kid’s phone into one.
Education shouldn’t be boring. The apps and others like them, teach valuable skills while being fun for your kids and teenagers.
Presidents vs. Aliens (all ages)
Presidents vs. Aliens is a game that will help your teen bone up on U.S. history while fighting off alien invaders. This app, which is $1.99 in the app store, uses trivia about U.S. presidents to help teens defeat aliens — and study their history without even realizing it.
Hakitzu Elite: Robot Hackers (9 to 18)
Life isn’t all about school; kids love their phones because they connect them with their friends and favorite influences. Chances are, your teenagers are already using these apps. While applications like Instagram and YouTube should certainly be used with caution, they’re great for encouraging creativity, photography and editing skills.
Instagram (13 and up)
Instagram is the senior citizen on this list — the app has been around since 2010, back when even your oldest teen was in grade school. Although many teens have moved on to other creative photography apps (teen girls enjoy the VSCO app these days) there are still plenty of teenagers in the Instagram community. Some even keep more than one account: a “real” Instagram for the wider Insta community and a “finstagram” or “fake ” Instagram account, which is for their closest friends, and ironically, is less posed and filtered than the real account. You will need to monitor your teen’s Insta use — there is some content on that platform that is inappropriate for minors.
Tik Tok (12 and up)
Even if you’re “too old” to use the app (at least 50% of its users are between the ages of 13 and 24), you’ve probably heard of Tik Tok. If not, Tik Tok is a social media app that lets users make short videos and send messages to friends. The goal is to make something that goes viral, but Tik Tok also teaches kids how to make and post their own videos. As with Instagram, you should keep an eye on your teen’s Tik Tok use — it’s not strictly a community for kids and there is some adult content on the site. There have also been instances of grown users sending inappropriate messages to teens through the app, so make sure to keep tabs on your child’s account.
YouTube (17 and up)
Kids are constantly on YouTube and as members of Generation Z, they use it for lots of things – they watch streaming games, influencers, snippets of their favorite entertainment. They even use it for tutorials when they need to learn how to complete a task. While YouTube is a fabulous resource for kids it can also be a minefield as well. Cyberbullies lurk in the comment sections, videos aren’t always vetted by the platform, and adults also use the site. If your child is using YouTube, be sure to monitor their usage. It’s not all bad, however, YouTube offers your kid a chance to learn how to be a YouTube creator — something that means kids will learn how to shoot, edit and post videos. All of these are valuable skills teens can learn quickly and from a responsible adult in a YouTube creator course.
Why should you encourage your teens’ use of apps?
As a parent, you may be concerned about the amount of time your kids spend on their phones. After all, less than half of the teens had smartphones in 2012, but 89 percent have smartphones today — and they spend a lot of time on them. So why should you, a parent, encourage them to download and use apps?
As you’ve already read, apps can be incredibly useful learning aids. They help supplement and support teens’ lessons in school and can help them discover new interests at home. Apps offer valuable homework help, build creativity, and help kids build and maintain friendships with their peers.
Most importantly, however, your kids are already using their phones and downloading apps. Today’s teens don’t remember a time when people weren’t using smartphones — they likely got their first phone in grade school, in fact. (A recent study suggests most kids who use smartphones start using them at the age of 11.)
As citizens of a digital world, their phone is the device that will let teens learn about and participate in today’s online society. By talking to them about their phone usage and guiding their choice of apps, you can help them navigate their digital world and maybe even point them at the applications that will best develop their skills and talents — like coding or being a YouTube creator.