Smart parenting to keep kids safe on gadgets

PAY TO PLAY: Many free iPad and Android games require extra payment to unlock content.
PAY TO PLAY: Many free iPad and Android games require extra payment to unlock content.

Smartphone and tablet games can keep little minds and hands busy while you're waiting at the doctor's or on long road trips - but they can also cost you money.

Many games today are "freemium", meaning they are free to download but users can make in-app purchases to help them advance faster through the game - a tempting option for impatient youngsters.

For example, kids playing the popular game Smurfs' Village can buy smurfberries - a bucket costs $6.49 while a wheelbarrow is a whopping $64.99 - to speed up the growth of their crops and village.

In-app purchases are often as easy to make as tapping "buy" when a window pops up on the screen mid-game, and some kids have racked up bills for thousands of dollars on credit cards linked to their parents' iTunes or smartphone app accounts. What can you do?


Apple requires you to enter a password when making purchases but for convenience then gives you a 15-minute window to make further purchases without having to enter your passcode - this is often when smurfberry-type shopping sprees occur.

To require a password to be entered for every purchase, you can go to the Settings menu, then select General, and then Restrictions. Click Enable Restrictions and you'll then be asked to enter and verify a Pin for managing restriction settings - make sure it's one your child won't guess. You'll now have the option of disabling or restricting many features. Scroll down to the Allowed Content section, select Require Password and change the setting from 15 minutes to Immediately.

To disable in-app purchases you'll need to follow the same steps as above, and when you get to the Allowed Content section, turn In-App Purchases to Off.

Another option for Apple users is to set up an iTunes allowance to limit how much your child can spend each month.

To do this, open up iTunes on your computer and click on iTunes Store in the left sidebar. Then select Buy iTunes Gifts in the Quick Links menu. Then select Allowances, and Set up an allowance now.

Fill out the form and select the amount of the monthly allowance: ranging from $10 to $50.

If your child does not already have an iTunes account you'll need to create a new one and supply an email address. You won't need to choose a payment method as the monthly allowance will come off the credit card you have tied to your own iTunes account. If your child does have an account, make sure you use his or her account name, also called an Apple ID.

If your child does not spend all of their monthly allowance it will accumulate, and you can restrict their downloads to age-appropriate apps.


Android users can set up a Pin to restrict in-app purchases (the only catch is you must be using Google Play version 3.1 or higher).

To set up a Pin open the Google Play Store app, bring up the menu and then select Settings, and Set or Change Pin. Enter a Pin - again one your child won't guess - and verify it. Then select use Use Pin for purchases.

Google Play also lets you restrict the type of apps that can be downloaded, so, for example, you can specify that only apps suitable for people with a low maturity level can be downloaded. To do this, go to the Settings menu again and select Content Filtering.

On Windows phones and tablets Windows Phone 8 users can set up a Pin for their Wallet which stores their credit card details for app and in-app purchases.

Go to the Apps menu on your phone and select Wallet, then More, then Settings+Pin. Turn the Wallet Pin switch on and then enter and confirm your four-digit Pin, and then select Done.

Then tick the box that says Use Wallet Pin to protect music, app and in-app purchases.


Smartphones and tablets can be useful and entertaining gadgets, but their use by kids also raises cybersafety concerns such as phone bullying, and your child being preyed on online or exposed to inappropriate content.

If your child has a smartphone or tablet of their own, or uses yours, there are some steps you can take to keep them safe.

New Zealand's cyber-safety watchdog Netsafe recommends parents have open conversations with their children about their use of the device and responsibilities so they know what's appropriate and what's expected of them. If you're going to use a parental control app (see below) then Netsafe recommends discussing the reasons for this with your child. It warns no filtering or control software is ever 100 per cent foolproof, particularly if users try to thwart it.

You can easily turn off certain settings on smartphones and tablets, such as GPS - so your child's location cannot be tracked - and 3G data - so they can't use mobile internet outside the home. However, these settings can be just as easily turned back on.

If your child has an Apple device such as an iPhone or iPad you can use the Restrictions menu (see the Preventing Purchases section above) to disable certain features such as Apple's web browser Safari, video sharing site YouTube, the device's camera and location-based features.

If you're a Windows Phone 8 user you can set up a Kid's Corner on your smartphone or tablet. It's basically a special kids mode loaded with apps, music, video and games you have deemed suitable. In Kid's Corner your child will not be able to access the internet except through weblinks in apps you have made available.

To set up Kid's Corner, select the Start menu, then Kid's Corner, then Next.

To add content to Kid's Corner select Games, Music, Videos, or Apps, and select the file and apps you want, then click Done. Select Next and then Finish.


Android doesn't offer any built-in parental controls apart from the ability to restrict app downloads in Google Play. There are, however, a range of free and paid parental control apps you can download to Android devices that can variously limit what your child does and sees, and report back to you on their activity.

Android apps include Net Nanny 2.0, eBlaster Mobile, Vodafone Guardian (for Vodafone NZ customers) and Norton Online Family. There are also apps for Apple iOS devices, such as Norton Online Family, McAfee Family Protection and K9 Web Protection.

Sources: Apple, Microsoft, AndroidPIT, MacWorld, The Telegraph, Netsafe, Vodafone, Lifehacker, PocketGamer, BBC, Engadget, Techlicious, LaptopMag, PCMag.

The Dominion Post