14/08/2014 16:46 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

The House Dad Chronicles: My Son's Hooked On IPod Apps

The House Dad Chronicles: My son's hooked on iPod apps

For his eighth birthday last year, I bought my son an iPod. This is something I'd wanted to delay until he was at least 10, but he's a master of Pester Power and persuaded me that because all his friends had them, he didn't just want one, he NEEDED one. A weak parent, that's me.

My conditions for terms of use were simple: he could only use it with my permission; he could only have apps that I'd approved; and those apps had to be free. But as the weeks went by, I found myself becoming at first indifferent, then oblivious, and finally positively encouraging of my son's use of his iPod.

Anything to stop him constantly nagging me for screen time and games that his friends had and that he simply had to have or he'd die of shame or some other such appalling fate.

"Can I have the new Angry Birds, uh, can I, can I, uh, can I, dad, perleeeeeeeease, dad, can I?" he'd nag, like a wasp buzzing in my ear hole.

I found myself saying 'Yes' so many times it was almost my default response. And then he started to ratchet up his requests a notch. "Can I have the new Talking Tom/Kick Buddy/Jetpack/Scooter/Temple Run/whatever, Dad, just give it to me because you don't know what I'm talking about anyway?"

And he was right.


I'd look at the cartoonish app icon on my son's device, see that it cost 0.69p ("Less than a loaf of bread," I'd reason), then obediently tap in my password and hand the gadget back before getting back to whatever I was doing.


But when he started asking if he could buy 'coins' and 'berries' and 'weapons' and God knows what else I put my foot down.

"No more," I said. "You're becoming addicted to that thing. You're like a gambler."

I told him I was rationing his iPod use to half an hour a day and after his initial meltdown, he seemed to accept it. I introduced new rules: it would always be on charge in my room and he'd have to ask for it, then return it.

The system seemed to work for a while – until the other night. On her way to bed, my wife went into our sons' bedroom to kiss them on their foreheads while they were asleep, as she always does.

When she came upstairs she said: "Tom's still awake." "What, at 11 o'clock?" I replied.

And then I instinctively looked to the table where his iPod was usually charging.

"He's got that bloody gadget," I said, and leapt out of bed to go to his room. As soon as I turned the light on, I could see in his eyes that he knew he'd been rumbled.

"Hand it over," I said. "What, Dad?" "You know very well what. Your iPod."

"But I don't have it, Dad," he said.

"Don't lie to me, Tom. I know you do."

"I don't, Dad, I promise."

That was the final straw for me. He was lying to his own dad – because of a bloody iPod.

"Out of bed," I ordered.

Then I lifted up his pillow to find the offending object.

"What's this?" I asked.

"I just wanted to get to the next level," he replied, sheepishly.

It wasn't so much that he'd taken the iPod in the first place – it is his, after all – it was the fact that he'd lied to me. More to the point, it was the fact that the addictive power of the thing had forced my own son to lie to me.

"OK, no iPod for a week," I said. "Now go to sleep."

As I returned to bed, seething, my wife calmed me down.

"It could have been a lot worse," she said.

Then she told me about someone she knew whose son had run up a bill on his mum's credit card for more than £100.

"She'd told him the password thinking he could be trusted," she said.


Which sounds naïve, but shouldn't we be able to trust our own children? Not where these super-addictive apps are concerned – for they are designed to hook our children as effectively as a virtual drug.


In fact, it is such an issue, that there have been recent reports of parents being billed for £500 or more because of their children playing games such as Angry Birds, Zombie Takeover, Playmobil Pirates, and Racing Penguin on smartphones and tablets.

However, once children are playing with them, they are hit with pop up advertisements for so-called 'In-App Purchases'. These might be to purchase coins or extra powers to allow the characters being controlled by the youngsters to go further and deeper into the game. These payments are taken automatically from the credit cards of the adult owners of the tablet or smartphone via, for example, an iTunes or Google account.

One parent
said a few days after he bought the Smurfs Village game for his six-year-old son, he logged on to his bank account and found he had been charged £188 for Apple transactions. It turned out his son had run up the debt on 'in-app purchases' – or IAPs.

Fortunately, most devices allow users to restrict access to IAPs or block them completely – it is parents who do not install these measures who are at risk.

A more extreme example happened last year when six-year-old Jake Sadler spent £1,000 playing Zombie Takeover, which was free to download - on his mother's iPad.

His parents only discovered the problem after receiving a call for their bank's fraud team who had concerns with 'unusual activity' on their account.

Jake's mother Gemma, 31, from Portsmouth, said: "We had no idea the money was even going out of our account until the fraud squad at the bank rang us.

"And when we looked at our bank account and found such a large amount of money missing I felt absolutely sick."

These are salutary tales, and ones I wish I'd read before I bought the b****y iPod. But I've acted now by blocking all In-App-Purchases and turned off the Location Services (you can find these in the Settings).

If you want to do the same, follow these simple steps

• Turn off IAPs on your device and require a passcode (not the device's passcode) to turn them back on.

• On an iPhone, go to Settings, tap General, then Restrictions, and then set an unlock code. Also, scroll down to the In-App Purchases switch and slide to off.

• Put the device in "airplane" mode, or otherwise turn off internet access.

• Require the account password whenever any purchase is made (be it an IAP or a new app).

• Put your app store account on a gift card instead of linking to a credit card, so any download damage is limited to a specific amount.