The Signal

A conversation about communication,
safety and making families work

Is your child’s virtual currency costing you real money?

In The Simpsons game "Tapped Out," virtual currency (donuts) can be bought for real money to advance progress in the game.
In The Simpsons game "Tapped Out," virtual donuts can be bought for real money and cashed in to advance progress in the game. suchosch/Flickr

By J.R. Williams
jrw@familysignal.com
Disable in-app purchases to avoid potentially high charges

The last time I saw my 14-year-old nephew, he showed me his phone. He was playing a game that pitted World War II-era tanks against one another, and he wanted me to see his impressive digital inventory of U.S. model Shermans, Pattons and Lees.

Then he entered the game’s in-app store, where “premium” tanks are sold for real money. He scrolled to the one he really wanted: An American T34. I stared incredulously at the price: $52.89.

Upgrades for games are nothing new. Teenagers (and many adults, for that matter) have been plunking down cash in games like World of Warcraft for years, even before the iPhone made its debut. But in-app purchases have succeeded in making anything and everything an upgrade. With all manner of digital currencies are available, and our kids are faced with more opportunities to buy than ever.

In recent weeks, plenty of stories have emerged about what can happen when adults don’t make the call. A 7-year-old charged $5,900 buying dinosaurs in the game “Jurrasic World,” Yahoo Tech reported. A teenager playing a soccer game on Xbox charged $7,600 for different groups of players (and apparently sold his dad a story that he didn’t know what was happening). A couple of kids who unblocked a family data cap racked up $1,700 in overage fees. Yikes.

Those stories are clearly extreme examples, and a recent study reported that the average iPhone user spent an average of $35 on apps in 2015, primarily for games. But how would you feel if you saw an unauthorized $20 charge for Donut Dollars to speed up construction of the Duff Beer factory in The Simpsons iOS game? Get this: You can buy 2,400 donuts for only $99.99.

Right. Here’s how to make sure you’re the one who approves all in-app purchases on your child’s iPhone or iPad.

If your child has his or her own device:

Turn on restrictions to disable in-app purchases.

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Tap “General”
  3. Tap “Restrictions”
  4. Tap “Enable Restrictions”
  5. Choose a password that’s different from your iPhone’s unlock PIN
  6. Now, you’ll be able to turn off in-app purchases completely by flipping the switch from green to white

If your child is using your device:

Always require a password to make a purchase.

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. Tap “Touch ID and passcode”
  3. Under “Use Touch ID for:,” turn off “iTunes and App Store”
  4. Go back to Settings
  5. Tap “General”
  6. Scroll down and tap “Password Settings”
  7. Under “Purchase and in-app purchases,” tap “Always require”

You’re done. Be sure to check out our guide to more iOS parental restrictions in our e-book, Digital Parenting Answers.


J.R. Williams
e-book

Free e-book

Expert advice and insight that you can use now