How to Keep Your Kids from Bankrupting You with App Store Spending

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I read a good post today over at Queen of Spain Blog – titled ‘Kids & iPads: Fish Bucks Are Not FREE’. It’s about how easy it is for kids to spend money in the App Store, particularly via in-app purchases. I’ve had first-hand experience of this. My daughter once racked up a crazy amount of iTunes billing buying up ‘mojo’ in We Rule. Over just a few days, she spent an amount that it would typically take me many months to spend.

It was an eye-opening experience for my wife and I, and for our daughter (Zoe) as well. If you have iPhones, iPod Touches, or iPads in your household, it’s more than likely you’ll come across some spending issues at some point. Seeing the Queen of Spain post was a nice reminder that I’d been wanting to share a few simple tips on this subject.

Here are a few things I would suggest to keep spending sensible with kids and iOS devices in your house:

Talk to Your Kids: Talk to your kids about apps and their cost. Your mileage will vary depending on the age of your children, but for those who are as young as Zoe (7.5) or younger, they may have very little concept of what effect spending in the App Store has. Smart kids will understand quickly that moderation is the key here, as it is with so many subjects.

In our case, we also explained that it’s important to check with mom and dad every single time you want to buy an app.

Be Careful with Games and In-app Purchase: Think carefully about apps with lots of in-app purchase options. Lots of in-app purchases are done very reasonably and are fairly priced – but I have to say we discourage our daughter from veering towards games where it looks as if you’re going to be paying left, right, and center just to get to new levels. We generally encourage her to look for games where you can get by just on skill and working out the challenge, without having to buy extra bits to help you advance.

Don’t let kids install apps under your own iTunes account – or even know your iTunes password. I think iPhone and iPad apps are fantastic for providing both education and entertainment for kids, but just like with movies and TV, some controls are needed for younger kids. It’s just far too easy for younger kids to make bad choices by mistake if they are able to use your account or, worse, know your password.

If you share an iPhone or iPad with your kiddos, don’t let them shoulder-surf your password and do your best not to leave your device with your kid right after entering your login details in the App Store – as there’s that 5-minute or so period after entering them where the store does not prompt for re-entry of the account password.

If you can handle the inconvenience, setup your primary account and an individual one for your child / children – and then just sign out of your account when passing over the device to your kids. If your child has their own device, it’s ideal to just setup their own iTunes account on it. That way they can still sync apps you’ve bought to their device when they sync to your PC, but they don’t have access to whatever primary payment method you’ve got setup on your own iTunes account.

Use App Gifting and iTunes Allowance to Fund Your Kids Accounts: If your kids’ app purchases are not that frequent, just gifting apps to them may work well for you. This way they’ll need to approach you each time they’d like to get an app. If you decide it’s an OK looking app, you can easily gift the app to them. To do so, you just find the app in the App Store on your PC and click on the drop-down arrow just to the right of its price listing. You’ll see the first option is ‘Gift This App’.

An iTunes Allowance is an even easier option if your child is a fairly regular app purchaser. Again, these are very easy to setup within iTunes and you can give your kid a regular monthly allowance to spend in the App Store / iTunes – ranging from $10-50. I did a how-to post on this earlier this year, which you can check out if you want more guidance on this: http://isource.com/2010/02/03/how-to-give-someone-a-monthly-allowance-for-the-app-store/

Use Restrictions – this is something you likely want to be doing with younger children anyway. In terms of the App Store, you can set limits that use the age ratings on apps to limit what it is possible to install on your iDevice. We use the 4+ rating as the limit for our daughter for now.

Get Engaged – wherever possible, don’t just give the apps your child wants to install a cursory check. Talk to them about the apps, watch them use them, let them show what’s cool about them. This is an additional layer of comfort in terms of not letting any bad apps slip through, but it’s also just big fun and a nice way to spend time with your kids. I often discover cool new apps and learn things from getting involved with what Zoe’s up to on her Touch and her (shared) iPad.

I realize a lot of this stuff is just good ‘ol common sense – but with technology we don’t always get our act together as quickly as parents as we do in other areas of life. Hopefully these suggestions may help some of you out when your kids become big App Store fans.

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