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.

read more

How to Keep iPhone’s AirDrop Safe for Your Teen

by Anna Hughes on 20/06/2018
“It seemed like a good idea at the time” might as well be the motto of Silicon Valley, that stands out in particular with Apple's AirDrop. AirDrop is designed to be a tool for people who own Apple products to quickly share files with each other through WiFi or Bluetooth. Essentially, if you own an Apple device and share a WiFi network with another Apple device, in theory you can share files with coworkers, friends, or even total strangers. Used properly, it's a handy productivity tool. Misused, you can wind up with sexually harassing images, viruses, or worse. So how do you keep teens from the risks of AirDrop?
Two teenage girls taking a selfie together.

Help teens be safe with their phones.

Shut It Off

First, you can use the iPhone parental controls to shut down AirDrop. Just go to Settings, then General, then AirDrop on any iPhone or iPad, and turn it off. Then lock down the iPhone with a parental control app. While you’re at it, you should do the same to your phone. Cruelty and misuse aren’t limited to teenagers, either. If your teen uses a Mac laptop, it will be a little more elaborate, since MacOS defaults to having AirDrop on. Go to the Applications folder, then Utilities, then Terminal. Enter this into the window:

defaults write com.apple.NetworkBrowser DisableAirDrop -bool YES

Hit enter, and then log out of the Mac. Once you log back it, it won’t turn on unless you consent to it. If you or your teen need it for some reason, then you should configure the iPhone parental controls to only allow contacts and approved people to send files.

Teenage boy looking at his mobile phone.

Do you know what they’re getting?

Educate

If you don’t want to start with the parental controls, then start with education. Teens should already know not to accept files from strangers, and fortunately, AirDrop needs your permission before it will download a file. Sit your teens down and talk to them about the risks both to their devices and themselves about AirDrop.

If you have to leave AirDrop enabled, you should also talk to them about what to do if somebody tries to send unwanted images and files to them at school or at work, beyond declining to accept them. They should know who to talk to, when to confront and when to speak to authority, and how to get help if they feel unsafe.

Use Parental Control Apps

Another useful tool is parental control apps, which can lock down various aspects of a phone on a schedule or just lock off certain apps and behaviors altogether. This can do far more than just control files that arrive on devices, and it may be useful in situations where either teens need unfettered use of their devices, such as school or internships, or simply that you need to break a bad habit. The other bad side of AirDrop is that it’s also a method of “swapping notes” in class, which admittedly isn’t as harmful as the worst-case scenario, but teens need to pay attention in class!

If you’re concerned about AirDrop, the internet, social networks, and other ways teens can experience the dark side of the internet, Screen Time can help, and you can try it for free.

read more

6 Signs Your Tween is Addicted to Their Smartphone – And How to Handle It

by Anna Hughes on 04/05/2017
Is your child spending too much time on their mobile device? For many parents, it’s a tough question. Mobile technology erupted quickly and then spread like wildfire, and the result is that our kids have always had these devices, while we grew up almost entirely without them.

How can you tell if your child’s reliance on smartphones and other mobile devices is normal when you have no frame of reference for childhood smartphone use, and when society has completely reorganized itself around mobile device use within your lifetime? Here’s some important information about children and smartphone use, and some tips on how to deal with potential smartphone addiction in your tween.

How Tweens Are Using Smartphones

It’s important not to approach the idea of smartphones and mobile devices as automatically bad. After all, they are an integral part of your tween’s social life and an important communication device. And, if current trends continue, they’ll also be an important part of your child’s adult life. It’s likely they’ll be expected to have and use a smartphone or other mobile device in their professional life later on. Learning to handle these devices now can be a helpful thing for their future.

On the other hand, too much of a good thing can always be dangerous. Some experts believe that smartphone use may be replacing drug and alcohol experimentation and addiction in teens due to a correlation between falling rates of tweens and teens who report drug use and rising rates of internet use. And while that may sound positive, experts also caution that it affects the brain in a similar way to using drugs.

How Much is Too Much?

Smartphones may be relatively new, but the signs of addiction tend to be somewhat consistent whether the addict is using chemicals or pixels. Your tween may be experiencing smartphone addiction if they exhibit some of these signs:

  • Using the smartphone to alleviate anxiety, depression, or other negative feelings;
  • Preoccupation with the smartphone to the detriment of grades, friendships, and other activities;
  • Withdrawal symptoms like anger, depression, irritability, and restlessness when the phone is taken away.

Smartphone use may also cause physical symptoms of addiction:

  • Eyestrain from too much digital viewing;
  • Neck pain from hunching over the phone;
  • Sleep disturbances and fatigue thought to be caused by the light from cell phone viewing after dark.

What Should Parents Do?

Iphone parental controls

If you suspect your child is addicted to their smartphone, your first instinct may be to remove the device entirely. That is an option, and it may be appropriate for some children. However, smartphones are part of modern life, and it’s unrealistic to expect your child will never use one again. Therefore, it may be advisable to treat smartphone addiction less like a chemical addiction and more like a food addiction. That means teaching your tween to moderate themselves.

Set boundaries for smartphone use. You may want to limit your child to a certain amount of time on their smartphone each day, or to designated times of the day, or both. It’s also important to keep an eye on what they’re doing and limit online activities that your kids spend an unhealthy amount of time on, like social media sites or games.

Parental control software can help you set and enforce healthy boundaries on your tween’s screen use.  The Screen Time app is a great tool for achieving this and more. To get an idea of how it works, try it for free.

read more