How to Prevent Kids from Making In-App Purchases

by Anna Hughes on 16/01/2019
Back in 2011, a viral story made the rounds of an eight-year-old girl racking up a $1400 bill on a video game called “Smurf's Village.” The game used in-app purchases and sold its users “Smurfberries” to speed up the game, and the girl, unaware she was racking up a fortune in credit card charges, just kept buying the berries to win. In of itself, it's a worrying story, and ultimately smartphone companies made sincere efforts to fix the problem, unlike some other issues. Still, the issue remains, and it's better safe than sorry.
Two teens sitting in front of their laptops or tablets.

Turn Off In-App Purchases

Fortunately, shutting off in-app purchases can be done with any phone. In iOS:

  • Open Settings, then choose “Screen Time.” Enable it if it’s not already enabled.
  • Tap continue, and then choose the option of “This is my iPhone” or “This is my child’s iPhone.”
  • 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.
  • Tap Content and Privacy Restrictions, and enter your passcode. Then activate Content and Privacy.
  • Choose iTunes and App Store Purchases
  • Select In-App Purchases and set it to “Don’t Allow.”

For Android

  • Open Google Play
  • Open Settings
  • Go to “User Controls”
  • Choose “Set or Change PIN” and pick your PIN
  • Go back to User Settings and activate “Use PIN for Purchases.”

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.

Teen girl taking a photo with mom.

Explain The Issue

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

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 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.

Summary
How to Prevent Kids from Making In-App Purchases
Article Name
How to Prevent Kids from Making In-App Purchases
Description
You can shut off in-app purchases, but that shouldn't be your only tactic.
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Screen Time
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