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

Don't get stuck paying for in-app purchases you didn't authorize.
Christine Elgersma Senior Editor, Apps| Mom of one Categories: Early Childhood, Cell Phone Parenting
Senior Editor, Apps| Mom of one

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.

Go with a gift card or an iTunes allowance. Let's say you want to allow your responsible kid to make purchases but not go wild. Opt to fund the iTunes account with an iTunes gift card instead of a credit card, or set up a monthly allowance in iTunes (go to Send iTunes Gifts, then Learn More About Gifting, then Set Up an Allowance).

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, set a maximum amount through the iTunes allowance. 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. Still, 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.

About Christine Elgersma

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... Read more

Add comment

Sign in or sign up to share your thoughts

Comments (5)

Parent of a 6 year old written by silentrigger2

Very drastic moves knowing how i loved my kids is more likely challenging to Curb them, this sites will look into different approach and angle's of Parent's children relationship. I am much pleased to read your blog. real soundcloud playsreal soundcloud plays
Parent written by TMBLUM

Great read - I'd love to connect more about in-app purchase management. We are developing a solution: a safe, easy-to-use wish list for virtual goods, providing parents and grandparents a way to connect with young gamers. (See: giftinghq .com) Players of mobile/tablet games can add in-game items they want to a list. Family members can gift the selected goods as a way to celebrate, reward good behavior, or simply say “you’re awesome”. We are in the early stages of our development.