How To Manage In-App Purchases in iTunes

By Tracey Dowdy

Every once in awhile you’ll hear a parent-horror story of a child who racked up a college-fund’s worth of charges in the app store before their unsuspecting parent had a chance to intervene.

Sometimes the child isn’t aware that the charges aren’t part of the game, other times they don’t think through the long term consequences of their choices.

A year ago, Mohamed Shugaa’s seven-year-old son racked up almost $6000 in charges upgrading the dinosaurs in his Jurassic World game. His father pleaded with iTunes and was eventually able to get the money back, but it was a tough lesson for both father and son.

The good news is, it’s a lot easier to prevent those charges than it is to get your money back through a dispute with the app store. Apple’s website states:

‘All iOS devices (iPad, iPhone and iPod touch) have built-in parental controls that give parents and guardians the ability to restrict access to content.

‘Parental controls also give parents and guardians the option to turn off functionality such as purchasing from iTunes and the ability to turn off in-app purchases.

‘Our parents’ guide to iTunes details the steps adults can take to make sure younger players have access to the right content. The first thing we recommend is not to share your password.’

In other words, it’s up to you to ensure your child – or anyone else – can’t inadvertently rack up charges without your consent.

Off course the easiest way to avoid running in to trouble is to stick with apps that are free of in-app purchases, but there’s a better way. It’s as easy as talking about what in-app purchases mean, what to look for and making a few simple changes in your settings.

Start with a conversation. Don’t assume your child “knows better” than to rack up charges. Caution them to keep an eye out for words like “expand,” “upgrade” and “enhance” that really translate to “buy.”

Set boundaries. If you choose not to password protect your account, or if you choose to share the password with your child, make sure you’ve established clear boundaries about how much your child can spend and establish what the consequences will be if the rules are broken.

Restrict access. The easiest way to manage in-app purchases is to make it impossible. Go to Settings > General > Restrictions. Under Allow, choose Off for in-app purchases. Voila! No more surprises. Note: Restrictions requires a separate passcode to lock the settings. Use a different passcode than the one you use to unlock your phone.

Require a passcode for every purchase. iTunes offers users the option to require a password immediately or allow a 15-minute grace period for further purchases to be made. Make sure you’ve selected the option to require the passcode every time. A lot can happen in 15 minutes!

Use gift cards or an iTunes allowance. If you’ve determined your child is responsible enough, or if you simply want to teach them the value of a dollar, using iTunes gift cards or providing a monthly allowance through the app store is a great option. Go to Send iTunes Gifts > Learn More About Gifting > Set Up an Allowance.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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