If songs about unicorns and ninja turtles have been mysteriously downloaded onto your smartphone, “free” vampire makeover apps appeared on your tablet, or your boss received a text from you with an inordinate number of emojis, you haven’t gone crazy. Your child might just be having a little too much fun with your devices.
But don’t hurl your electronics in the street just yet. You’re not alone. Last year, 7-year-old twins charged $3,000 worth of in-app purchases on their mother’s iPad, according to CBCNews.
Cases like this are leading to major litigation. Apple recently settled a lawsuit that alleged it lured children into purchases, according to Bloomberg. And, CNET notes that a New York woman sued Google Play in March with similar complaints.
Fear not: There are a few ways to allow your children the occasional technological indulgence without emptying out your bank account or holding an uncomfortable meeting with your boss.
In-app purchasing is a quick and easy way for kids to rack up a hefty bill. App downloads are often free, but children are confronted with charges to change levels or avatars while playing the game. Technology expert David Fewer told CBC News that many app makers bank on parental permissions being improperly set, creating an opportunity for them to make their money.
These purchases can be blocked by a quick change to your device’s settings.
Apple allows you to turn off in-app purchases via iOS settings within the Restrictions folder. Once you select Enable Restrictions, you’ll need to set a PIN, and then you can scroll down and toggle In-App Purchases to “off.”
To alter settings within your Android device, go to your Google Play store and set up a PIN that will need to be entered to make any purchases. Make sure to never share your PIN with your kids.
Mashable also offers instructions on altering settings for Kindle, Nook and Windows 8.
Apps and websites with e-commerce capabilities generally offer to remember your login and passwords, but Lifehacker.com says it’s best to decline this service unless you want your kids to start receiving shop tools and martial arts paraphernalia at your doorstep.
You might also want to consider locking down the applications on your device with the most sensitive financial information.
For Android, Tech2Blog suggests using App Lock, a free app on Google Play, that can lock specific apps using a unique password.
Apple advises that you enable restrictions within your iOS settings. Once you toggle Enable Restrictions to “on” you’ll be prompted to create a PIN and can select certain applications, such as your camera or iTunes store, that will not show up on your iOS-powered device. You can also set parental controls based on movie and app ratings, and even restrict access to downloading or deleting apps.
When in doubt, encourage learning. PBS recommends that parents be involved in their children’s experience with electronic devices, helping them choose appropriate downloads that educate and entertain. Common Sense Media offers parents’ ratings of apps, organized by age group, device, subject and skill.
Even little children can learn boundaries. Supervise their activities on your device, and help them recognize prompts that require your permission. PBS also recommends setting screen-time limits.
Congratulations. You are now armed with the tools to conquer your kids on the battlefield of device security. Now the most outrageous purchases on your devices are likely to be your own.