Mystery charges on your credit card are usually bad news. But when it’s your own kid racking up fees on your iTunes account, it’s a lesson in frustration. Some kids don’t realize they’re spending actual money when an app asks them to pay to level up or get a better weapon. Or, maybe they do understand but can’t think through the consequences of not getting your permission.
The good news is that it’s not hard to prevent your kids from accumulating big bills with in-app purchases on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. These tips can help:
Restrict access. Use the iPhone’s Restrictions to simply turn off the ability to make in-app purchases. Go to Settings, then General, then Restrictions. Under Allow, choose Off for in-app purchases. Important: Restrictions requires a passcode to lock the settings. This is not the same code as the phone’s passcode lock. Don’t be tempted to use the same code for each, and don’t tell your kid your Restrictions passcode.
Require a passcode immediately. Unless you’re running a really old version of iOS (and if you are, it’s time for an update), you have the option either to require a passcode immediately for any in-app purchase or to allow a 15-minute grace period during which, after an initial in-app purchase, you can make purchases without reentering the code for the iTunes account. Require the passcode immediately through the Restrictions settings.
Use Family Sharing. Let’s say you want to allow your responsible kid to make purchases but not go wild. You can set up a family group and hand select apps to share to your kid’s device. If they want to buy apps, you can select Ask to Buy so that you can approve or deny purchase requests, even if the app is free.
Set expectations. Once the device’s settings are squared away, it’s time to establish some rules about in-app purchases. Decide whether you’re willing to pay for them and, if so, under what circumstances. Or say you’ll buy the game but won’t allow any extra charges. When your kid wants a new app, look at the number of in-app purchases available in a game (usually found on the app description page) before buying.
Choose apps without purchases. Sometimes you have to pay more for apps that don’t have in-app purchases. When it comes to apps for little kids, it’s usually worth it. Also, it may be cheaper over the long run to pay more initially, and you won’t wind up with extra charges you can’t account for.
Christine Elgersma started as Senior Editor, Apps and Digital Learning in January, 2015. Before coming to Common Sense, she helped cultivate and create ELA curriculum for a K-12 app, taught the youth of America as a high school teacher, a community college teacher, a tutor, and a special education instructional aide. Christine is also a writer, primarily of fiction and essays, and loves to read all manner of books from Stephen King to Anne Lamott. When she’s not putting on a spontaneous vaudeville show with her daughter, Christine loves to hike and listen to music, sometimes simultaneously.
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsensemedia.org.
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