Any parent daft enough to allow an eight year old to play unsupervised with a £400 iPad deserves all he gets. So no, I am not wasting any sympathy on Lee Neale whose daughter Lily ran him up a £4,000 bill by downloading ‘freemium’ games.
Just as you should know where your children are and who they are with so, as a parent, you should have full control over your child’s access to electronic media. Laissez-faire and giving into peer pressure - aka wails of ‘But all my friends …’ is lousy parenting. You have to be prepared to take a stand.
And not checking your bank account regularly is hardly sensible either. It took Lily four months to rack up that bill between March and July. Her father was alerted to the problem only when his bank froze the account.
Apple refused to give Mr Neale a refund telling him – not unreasonably – that ‘all purchases made on the iTunes store are final.’ The child had, after all, used her father’s password having watched him key it in when downloading free games for her. The problem arose when she started ordering extras for games such as Campus Life, My Horse, Injustice, Hay Day, Gymnastics Events and Smurfs’ Village.
This is not an isolated case. A Windows Phone UK survey earlier this year found that parents are forking out around £30 million a year for unauthorised downloading of material on smartphones and tablet computers such as iPads.
It’s clever marketing and the Office of Fair Trading has launched an investigation. The problem is that the child is playing a free game until a pop-up, or other offer, appears which can be bought with a single click and charged to a credit card stored on the device. Arguably the children don’t always realise that these items cost ‘real money.’
As usual most parents and adults are underestimating children. Parents should be teaching their children that obtaining things – even virtually – charged to their parent’s account without permission is wrong. Yes, wrong. It isn’t difficult to understand.
In orderly families children are not allowed to order extras in restaurants or put items in supermarket trolleys without permission. The principle is identical.
And as for anger with the companies who market these costly add-ons to children, well perhaps there should be tighter rules, but if parents assertively ensured that their children didn’t purchase then, without customers, the business would collapse. This is within the control of parents – but they will have to get off their mobile phones, get their eyes off the TV screen and take some notice of what their children are actually doing. It’s no good whingeing that it’s someone else’s fault when the children are a few feet away from you, largely ignored until you get the bill.
I’d keep any child of mine well away from these time wasting games anyway. All the evidence shows that the children who go on to do best and achieve most in life are the ones who read books in their spare time. So hide the iPad and take them to a bookshop or library. It’s a lot cheaper.