Why you should think before you click “made for kids”

Stop sign allowing thought before clicking made for kids on app store

When I first released WordWhile on the Apple App Store, I thought “Hey, I put a lot of thought and care into making this a game that kids, albeit bookish kids, could safely play.  Why not check the box that includes it in the kids category?”  Well, now I know why not!

To start with, when this box is checked, the app page displays “Made for Kids” very plainly and unless your app is made primarily for kids, this will probably turn off potential users.  In the case of WordWhile, it is a word puzzle game based on classic books and other classic texts (proverbs, etc.) that will appeal to adults and bookish kids (shout out to Teachers and Librarians!).  When it is funny, it is so mainly because the player is familiar with the texts (without having to know them by heart) and the novel word choice bumps up against this familiarity to create… humour.  Kids tend not to be so familiar with these texts.  That being said, I put texts in that will work for all ages (so far, the proverbs and now tongue twisters and nursery rhymes).  So “Made for Kids” sends the wrong message to adults looking for something for themselves.

I realized this quickly and with the first update (a month after initial launch) unselected “made for kids” (the rating remains 9+).  However, and this is the kicker, when an app has been in the Kids category, it will forever be subject to Apple’s additional requirements/constraints on apps for kids.  I knew this but figured it would never be a problem (the app already having been accepted for sale as it was).  So in mid-August I submit the latest update (in which, the height of irony, I add a collection of “Children’s Classics” but don’t change or add a single feature) and it is rejected because of the sharing feature (players could send a copy of the text resulting from their  choices as text or an image using whatever was available on the device for such sharing) and I am told I need to add a Parental Gate before any feature that “links outside the app, engages in commerce” or communicates outside the app in any way.

After considerable back and forth with Apple, I have learned the following:

  1. It doesn’t matter that the communication is one-way or that the player has no control over the content of the communication or that the texts are carefully curated to be absolutely appropriate and unobjectionable for kids 9 and up (and younger, frankly).
  2. It also doesn’t matter that only 49 copies of the app were downloaded before I removed it from the Kids category (and that most of those were to friends and family).
  3. Lastly, it doesn’t matter that the app was approved with that feature five times (two for WordWhile and three for the WordWhile Sampler, which is identical in features but with limited content) including when it was in the Kids category.  (This was a mistake which Apple says will be addresses internally at App Review, but does not give my app a “free pass” to not include the Parental Gate.)

Apple’s policy regarding apps that have ever been in a Kids category is there to protect kids’ safety and I respect that, although I had hoped that in this situation the circumstances (see above learning) would allow me to leave the sharing feature as it was (no Parental Gate).  No dice, and I cannot imagine any adult enjoying going through a Gate every time they want to share a silly poem on their iPhone, so for the time being I have just removed the feature from the app (as of version 1.2.1).  Hopefully, at the very least, this will make it easier for teachers and librarians to consider adding it to the devices they make available to kids.


As of this morning, this version is still “Waiting for Review” but hopefully within a day is will ship and I can get back to the business of making new texts. To paraphrase John Holt, app devs are learning all the time.