Mobile apps and games can be a great distractions for kids when you’re busy. However, parents must take steps to prevent children from making in-app purchases or those few minutes of silence may cost you dearly. It’s not that kids maliciously decide to rack up a large tab purchasing in-app items. Games have been designed to be engaging and motivate players to reach the highest levels. This sometimes requires that purchases be made. With the simple tap of a button kids can buy a limitless number of in-game items.

Most children aren’t out to spend all your hard-earned money on in-app purchases. Some kids are even too young to understand that what they are doing is a problem. They instinctively press bright and flashy buttons. They then notice they get extra coins, other in-game currency, or access to a new feature. The kid doesn’t know this costs real world money to they keep pressing away, delighted that they found a simple method to maximize their gaming experience.

Prevent Children From Making In-App Purchases

Turn Off In-App Purchases

Simply turning off all in-app purchases is the quickest method to stopping unapproved spending by a youngster. Thankfully this task is fairly simple for both Android and iOS devices.

Android

If you have an Android device you can turn off in-app purchases as follows:

Google Play > Settings > User Controls > Set or Change PIN > Back to User Settings > Use PIN for Purchases

iOS

Settings > Screen Time > Enable Screen Time > Select This is My Phone or This is My Child’s Phone > Set Your Password or a Parent Password (if a child’s phone) > Content and Privacy Restrictions > Enter Your Password > Activate Content and Privacy > Select iTunes > App Store Purchases > In-App Purchases > Select Don’t Allow

The process requires a few more steps for iOS, but the same end result is achieved. Your kids will no longer be making in-app purchases and racking up a surprise bill.

Parents should also look into smartphone substitutes for younger children. If your child is at an age where a full-blown iPhone isn’t necessary many lite devices exist that are reasonably priced and remove access to app stores and the web.

Discuss In-App Purchases

I’m sure many dads can relate to the following scenario. You tell your child “no” on something for whatever reason. Your “no” leads to a barrage of “why not?!” questions from your kid.

Even if you don’t get a bunch of “why not” style questions it’s important to explain to your child why a decision is being made. This is important to start building analytical skills and understanding reasons behind decisions.

Take the time to open an app or share your surprise bill and put the costs in terms your child will understand. If they receive an allowance break out how many chores or weeks it would take them to earn the in-app item they want to purchase.

For kids, seeing bright and flashy buttons that promise rewards can be enticing. Even for adults we can get sucked into the allure of buying power-ups and other items.

Set Boundaries

Part of growing up is learning to manage responsibilities. If your child is at an appropriate age to understand that in-app purchases cost real world money you may have a learning opportunity at hand.

Explain that the purchases aren’t just coins in the game and cost you, the parent, actual money. Also explain in terms your child will understand how it takes effort to make money. For example, you might say it would take the entire week of taking out the trash to earn one in-game item from their favorite game. This helps the child grasp the idea that nothing is free.

You can then set guidelines on what is and is not acceptable. One approach might be to trade physical allowance for in-app purchases. So if you child does all their chores for the week they can purchase 1 or 2 items in their favorite game. This has the added benefit of introducing the idea of opportunity cost. We can’t have our in-game purchases and normal allowance. A decision must be made between the two.

Also be sure to discuss boundaries in regards to screen time. Adults and kids alike need to practice healthy screen time behaviors.

Use Monitoring Apps

Frequent readers of Nerdy Dads will know that I advocate for discussions as opposed to using monitoring apps. I’ve always felt a child will appreciate the respect shown when they are treated like an adult and not a thief. With that said, monitoring apps can help parents keep an eye on what their kids are buying and downloading.

While it is a personal choice I’d recommend using parental controls for gaming apps prior to using a monitoring solution. Either way you decide to go I still suggest having a discussion with your child. Turning an obstacle into a learning situation is much better than the potential fallout of installing monitoring apps.


Games are fun! I’ll be the first to say it and also the first to admit that I’ve dropped a few bucks on in-app items. I’ve presented a few solutions to prevent children from making in-app purchases. Of course, downloading games that don’t require any purchases is also a solution. At the end of the day in-app goodies can make games more fun and engaging. It’s ok to have fun, it just needs to be reasonable and not end up with a surprise bill at the end of the month.

Author

One part gaming enthusiast, one part Python developer and 100% dad. I write about technology, gadgets, and gaming from a dad's perspective. I enjoy sharing all things tech-related with my kids. I hope you enjoy my musings!

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