Top 3 tips to stop your kids from making in-app purchases

Setting appropriate restrictions on devices and monitoring online activity will help halt kids from shopping online without your knowledge (Getty Images/Westend61)

Many parents have experienced that moment when they check their credit card statement only to find unrecognizable charges from recognizable apps.

Be it a new video game, mobile app or Amazon purchase, there are multiple ways kids can make online purchases via devices with the simple click of a button. Whether done by accident or on purpose, it’s a practise that not only racks up bills, but also fosters distrust and requires intervention, say experts.

Here are three tips to make sure the next time your child goes online, it doesn’t turn into a virtual shopping spree. 

1. RESTRICT ACCESS

One of the first things parents can do to stop in-app or online purchases is to restrict the capability on devices their kids have access to.

You can easily do so on both iOS (Apple) and Android (Google Play) devices. With iOS, there are three options (via the Screen Time app in Settings): restrict which apps can run, select “don’t allow” under ‘in-app purchases’ or require a password to make any purchases. Android users can also require authentication (a password) for any purchases via the Google Play Store app in Settings.

For those kids who have their own phones, parents can install parental control software, such as Google’s Family Link service, to block usage of apps and in-app purchases. With iOS, you can also activate the Ask to Buy feature, so that purchase requests must be approved. 

Additionally, Datarisk Canada’s cybersecurity expert Claudiu Popa recommends parents and children have their own accounts on any shared devices (computers, smartphones etc.) with the appropriate settings based on who is using the device. 

“It makes sense because different users have their own preferences, their access privileges and their own data,” says Popa. “Before handing a phone [or device] over to kids … be sure to take the time to explain to them why those settings are in effect.”

2. MONITOR ONLINE ACTIVITY

Perhaps obvious, but consistently supervising children’s online activity can help avoid unexpected purchases from taking place. 

Tools, including free Domain Name System (DNS) filtering services such as OpenDNS, CleanBrowsing and 1.1.1.1, can also help restrict what websites kids visit and content they see. But, monitoring from parents should be taken a step further, says Popa. 

“If a child does not require access to the cell phone network, for example, then any old phone or tablet could be used within reach of a Wi-Fi device,” he adds. 

Have a conversation about online behaviour and etiquette, access to reliable information, digital advertising and social media, as well as cybersecurity basics and privacy protection, recommends Greg Masiewich, social and digital media manager for the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education (CFEE). These talks should vary in the amount of information and expectations dependent on the child’s age.

“The biggest roles parents can play is being that filter on the content and information that kids are getting online and helping them understand and know what’s accurate,” he says. “Parents need to get a sense of what their children are consuming, to help them contextualize it.”

3. USE TEACHING MOMENTS

With restrictions in place and activity monitored, parents can now tackle the issue of financial awareness, say experts.

Use these situations as teaching moments to introduce, or further develop, financial literacy knowledge, suggests Masiewich. Explain how in-app or online purchases work, their tie to credit cards, bank accounts and real money and the consequences of racking up bills that must be paid.

“The child may not realize what they’re doing and it turns into an expensive lesson,” he says. “It’s important to have those conversations, so that kids understand the basic money concepts, how to keep themselves cybersafe, while not sharing passwords or personal information.” 

Lastly, adds Popa, when setting rules, parents need to meet their kids part way, rather than coming down too hard on them for making a life-learning mistake. Be open and transparent, he suggests, explaining why restrictions are in place, while helping to develop mutual respect, trust and a sense of responsibility.

“Kids are smart and for the most part, they try to align their interests with those of parents as long as the explanation makes sense. Having their understanding and agreement is even more important than enforcing strict technical controls,” he says. “By showing them respect and treating them like logical beings, we get their buy-in and ensure they think twice about making impulse purchases.”

And if a few purchases slip through before you are able to put restrictions in place, try reaching out to the app store or provider to let them know a purchase was made in error. They may be able to give you a refund.

FINANCIAL LITERACY FITNESS

Feeling a monetary pinch? Here are some quick tips to get your family’s finances back on track. Arm your kids with the knowledge to avoid financial mistakes when they’re young adults. Plus, download CPA Canada’s free virtual workshops for kids that cover a range of topics, geared to by age and grade, including virtual saving and bank accounts, earning incomes and more.