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5 Ways to Curb Kids' In-App Purchases on the iPhone

Don't get stuck paying for in-app purchases you didn't authorize.

Mystery charges on your credit card are usually bad news. But when it's your own kid racking up fees on your iTunes account by making in-app purchases in games and apps, 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. (A problem that's so widespread, it's prompted Common Sense Media and other companies to launch a Federal Trade Commission complaint against Facebook).

There are a few precautions you can take to curb in-app purchases on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. These tips can help:

Restrict access. Use Screen Time to simply turn off the ability to make in-app purchases. Make sure Screen Time is turned on, follow the prompts to select whose device it is and to set up or enter your passcode, and then go to Content & Privacy Restrictions. Tap iTunes & App Purchases, then tap In-App Purchases and set it to Don't Allow.

Require a passcode immediately. If you don't want to totally disable in-app purchases, you can set the device 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. Go to Settings, your name, iTunes & App Store, then Password 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 (it's on by default for kids under 13). You can use this feature with or without Screen Time enabled.

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
Christine Elgersma is the editor for learning app reviews as Senior Editor, Learning Content. Before coming to Common Sense, she helped cultivate and create ELA curriculum for a K-12 app and 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. When she's not putting on a spontaneous vaudeville show with her daughter, Christine loves to hike and listen to music, sometimes simultaneously.