The Online Apps Bandwagon

Take care when choosing computer games and online financial learning apps for teenagers.

At the moment, there is a lot of conversation about the place of online or computer games and apps in the financial learning space. Most of that conversation is generated by the software developers, who inherently have a bias, and often have no understanding of how learning occurs.

Parents must be vigilant in this space and be prepared to ask hard questions and investigate thoroughly before exposing their children to these applications.

This paper presents the pluses and minuses of using online apps and computer financial education games as a means of making your children and students more financially capable.

While many may be developed with good intent, many will also foster poor financial habits, unrealistic expectations, and be based on fantasy situations rather than the real world.

Unfortunately, many will also introduce teens to gambling, credit and debt far too quickly and far too early, usually without prior guided and supervised education.

Care is needed.

This paper encourages both parents and teachers to be vigilant.


The best person to choose an online or computer game for a child is of course, the parent. A parent knows the current computer competencies, abilities and interests of their child. As that child becomes a teenager, parent knowledge of the child still applies, but it probably is starting to diminish as teens develop more computer skills through schooling.

A parent also knows that giving their teen access to any online or off-the-shelf computer game will surely have a short life span unless the teen’s interest can be stimulated and maintained. This can be difficult to do.

In most instances, a parent will have to be involved to help their teen maintain momentum of interaction. Doing this with a teenager can be a challenge for all involved.

Parents also have to be aware of some games that lead the teen, and possibly the parent, toward subscription with a particular financial institution or financial products.

There are several online apps at the moment that introduce children to the use of bank cards, so while it is important for teens to learn about these cards, parent supervision is a necessity.

teen gaming 2  

There are also several apps that incidentally introduce teens to gambling. Gambling options are built into the game.

There are more than 2500 online gambling sites, most of which operate outside Australian regulations. These sites allow Australians to gamble using an estimated 200+ different payment methods – many do not require proof of age.

So rife is gambling already among teenagers, we can expect about one in five Australian adolescents to gamble – this is based on our recent study investigating the impact of the changing representation of gambling online. Our online survey of more than 500 adolescents from 12 to 18 years of age also found that 60 percent of those teen gamblers do so online.

Sydney Morning Herald, 2017

This should be a concern for all parents.


It is unlikely that any one game can address the diverse needs and interests of a class of 25 students. Not only will a typical class have a range of abilities and capacities, there may also be students with English as a second language, and special needs.

The claims made by many game developers that one game/app will hold the interest for all of these students are doubtful.

Many of these apps also have specific literacies that can make it difficult for some students to learn. Significant time will need to be given by teachers, to supporting students in these situations.

No teacher will continue using a resource that fails to hold the attention of most students most of the time. To do so would invite poor student behaviour and waste learning opportunities available through the use of alternative resources.

The choice of financial learning games/apps by teachers requires careful consideration.

Claims by developers

1. Our game/app aligns to the Australian Curriculum

This claim is always easy to make as every game/app has some content and skills that will have some alignment to a very broad Australian curriculum and the versions implemented by each state. The important questions to ask about this are:

  • Is the content aligned to the appropriate year level?
  • Is the core content of the game/app of real relevance to the teen at this age?

There are some applications currently being offered to schools which introduce mortgage and taxation concepts to primary school students. These concepts are NOT core business in primary schooling, and for most educators would be deemed inappropriate.

There are far more important financial life skill concepts to be introduced to students at this age level.

2. Our game/app teaches financial knowledge and skills

This claim is also easy to make if the app has a focus on financial concepts. For teachers and parents it is important to ask or check:

  • Is the financial decision-making within the app/game appropriate for this age group?
  • What habits are being encouraged for better or worse through the playing of the game?
  • Is there a sense of reality about the game or does it take a fantasy or unrealistic, inauthentic approach?

What guidance, supervision and scaffolding is given to teens using these games. If there is none, then it is likely that poor or uninformed habits are being developed.

Learning happens best when there is a sense of reality! We also do not want teens to develop poor financial decision-making habits as a result of learning and playing a game where actions, behaviours and decisions are not shared and discussed.

The benefits of online apps/games

Parents and teachers should look at the claims of developers of more familiar apps / games, before choosing to purchase financial education apps/games. Consider the following questions.

  • Will your teen be able to play football effectively if they play an online version of football? Not likely!
  • Will your teen be able to drive a car effectively, if they play an online version of car driving? Not likely!
  • Will your teen be able to cook a meal effectively, if they play an online version of cooking a meal? Perhaps, but not likely!

These questions help us to clarify the difference between awareness raising and real-life learning and application.

Most games/apps serve a purpose of raising awareness and perhaps develop some initial understanding of financial concepts. I say perhaps because there are many variables that impact on learning, for example:

  • Does the child have no, little or some understanding of the core concepts the game is based upon?
  • What is the current literacy level of the child?
  • How often will the child have an opportunity to play or use the game?
  • What support is given to the child?
  • How reliable is the software?

These variables matter.

They could be used as a small part of an overall financial learning strategy, but certainly not as the only feature of that strategy.

This article asks teachers and parents to consider carefully the online apps and computer games they introduce to teens. While developers may have good intent, we must be vigilant to the behaviours, attitudes and habits that are fostered through the playing of the game or the using of the app.

We must also be aware of the subtle messages perhaps related to gambling, credit, debt, buy now pay later which can be embedded in these apps.

Many developers are trying to make a positive difference to help our youth. This is great.

However, all developers need to be held accountable for their products. Teachers and parents have a role to play in ensuring developers do the right thing by our youth.

Finally, the importance of financial education extends beyond the learning that occurs within games and apps. Teens need to be educated to scrutinise online applications, which will become increasingly prevalent in the future. Adults know only too well that they are bombarded with online ‘offers’ to spend, give, subscribe and so on.

Introducing teens to these environments without appropriate guidance and supervision is not advisable. Take care.

Reference: Gainsbury, Sally (SMH, Feb 15 2017) Gambling operators are cashing in on teens’ addiction to online games,

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