How to Disable In-App Purchases On Your Child’s Phone

by Screen Time Team on 16/01/2019
Two teens sitting in front of their laptops or tablets.

What are In-App Purchases?

In-app purchases are additional purchases made within an app. These upsell opportunities are becoming more and more prevalent in mobile apps, especially games, and can become quite an expense if not monitored/controlled. For example, your child may unknowingly spend hundreds of dollars on new outfits, extra lives, or other in-game currency used to buy other collectibles. To avoid racking up extra charges on your credit card, you should discuss the logistics behind these types of purchases, and may want to block them altogether. The guide below will help you update these settings to prevent in-app purchases.

Types of In-App Purchases

There are 3 major types of in-app purchases: Subscriptions, non-consumables and consumables:

Subscriptions: Subscriptions provide access to content on a monthly or annual basis, i.e. Apple Music, Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, etc. Once the app is downloaded, the user has the option to subscribe to premium content and pay for the subscription on a recurring schedule. Subscriptions often auto-renew each month, so it’s important to keep track of which ones are active.

Non-consumable in-app purchases: These one-time purchases unlock a permanent feature in an app, such as removing ads or unlocking the full/premium version of a game after its free trial.

Consumable in-app purchases: Consumables include in-game currency or other expendable app features that can be used up (as opposed to non-consumables). Examples include extra lives in a game, currency like tokens, or a limited number of actions like downloads or exports from a media app. These are often some of the biggest culprits for racking up a large bill, since many “freemium” apps are designed to get users addicted to certain consumable items, and children may not understand that they are spending real money while making several purchases in a short time span.

How to Turn Off In-App Purchases

Fortunately, shutting off in-app purchases can be done with any phone. Follow the relevant guide below for your child’s device:

How to Disable In-App Purchases on iOS (iPhone):

  1. Open Settings, then choose “Screen Time.” Enable it if it’s not already enabled.
  2. Tap continue, and then choose the option of “This is my iPhone” or “This is my child’s iPhone.”
  3. If it’s your phone, you’ll be asked to choose a passcode. If it’s your child’s, you’ll need to follow the prompts and set a Parent’s Passcode.
  4. Tap Content and Privacy Restrictions, and enter your passcode. Then activate Content and Privacy.
  5. Choose iTunes and App Store Purchases

Select In-App Purchases and set it to “Don’t Allow.”

How to Disable In-App Purchases on Android

  1. Open Google Play
  2. Open Settings
  3. Go to “User Controls”
  4. Choose “Set or Change PIN” and pick your PIN
  5. Go back to User Settings and activate “Use PIN for Purchases.”
Teen girl taking a photo with mom.

Explaining In-App Purchases to Your Child

When discussing this issue with your children, make a point of sitting them down and walking them through the app and why you don’t want them to make in-app purchases. Many apps prey on our cognitive biases towards money; we understand concrete resources, like having only four apples, very well, but abstract concepts like money are a bit trickier for our brains, child or not.

The trick is to tie it to reality, for them to understand these digital purchases have physical consequences. For example, you might open the various power-ups in a game and have them work out the math relative to their allowance. Anchor it to something concrete they enjoy, so that they understand they’re trading off pleasure now for something else later.

Set Rules for In-App Purchases

That said, you don’t need to cut kids off from apps completely, just ensure that you have a degree of control financially. There should be rules about what kids are allowed to buy and how much they’re allowed to spend. For example, if kids have an allowance, you can let them spend that allowance digitally on songs or games. Kids should need to ask you to enter a passcode or similar before they can buy something, which has the added benefit of letting you see what they want to buy.

With games that have in-app power-ups, it may not be worth the trouble to allow them on the phone. Many games use a “Skinner box” method, of stimulating the player just enough and then demanding they pay to continue, and not even adults are entirely immune to this form of manipulation. Look over games that use in-app purchases and ask yourself if they’re worth the trouble, and make a point of teaching kids about how these games try to manipulate them.

Do More With Parental Control Software

Parental control software can also block apps and in-app purchases, and should be installed before kids get their phones. Parental control software is the ideal adjunct to built-in iPhone parental controls and any Android parental control app that comes standard with the device, because it allows parents greater control over kids’ device use.

Do you want something beyond built-in iPhone parental controls and Android parental control apps that come standard? Would you like extra help keeping in-app purchases in line? Try Screen Time for free and discover the benefits for yourself.

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