Kids & iPads: Fish Bucks Are Not FREE

crossposted at

I’m now the proud owner of $20 worth of virtual fish for a virtual aquarium.

Why would I make such a purchase you ask?

I didn’t.

My five-year old daughter did on the family iPad.

My little bff's

Yes, it’s just that easy to make purchases in the App store, and even children can figure out how to add more veggies to their virtual farms, buy the updated version of Angry Birds, and yes, even fill cyber fish tanks with loads upon loads upon loads of fish.

Because let me tell you, $20 buys A LOT of pixel fish.

Of course this is all my fault. I did not turn off the online feature. I did not disable purchases. And just minutes before my daughter’s big “click,” I had entered my password to download a new app.

Totally my fault.

But as it turns out, I’m not the only parent who’s found out the hard way that some of these games cost REAL money and not all Apps are .99cents.

Mike Rohde’s son spent $190 in virtual fish goods:

“Today, iTunes enabled inadvertent in-app currency purchases via my 7 year old son, while he played the PlayMesh Fishies app on our iPad.

Read that again — from my 7 year old son.

It Started with a Free App

The story starts when we downloaded PlayMesh Fishies from the iTunes app store for Nathan to play with. It seemed innocent enough — a free iPhone app that let him create a virtual fish tank. Looked like fun.
When Nathan called me over, asking if he could buy some pearls for his new fish tank to get more items…”

And then there are the kids who are a bit older and wiser as to how the system works.

Mollierosev tweets:

My parents + little bro have a constant iTunes war going on. He buys music, they yell, he waits a few days and buys again.

But I think Issascrazyworld had the solution:

$25 bucks on puzzles on the ipad from one kid. CD on an iTouch from another. I changed passwords & put them on Plane mode.

Brilliant. I’m off to change my iTunes password, put the iPad in plane mode, and have a nice long talk with my kids about what to do when that blue screen pops up…and then after we’ll tend to our incredibly expensive fake fish.

Politics & News Contributing Editor Erin Kotecki Vest


  1. You gotta be careful with Facebook too. They have a feature, if you buy something or put your credit card number for any reason, the default is to save it, so it’s “easier” to make purchases.

    And it doesn’t even look like you are buying something. My seven year old spent $55.00 and he said, “it didn’t say it cost money!” as his defense. When I investigated, it wasn’t intuitively obvious to me that it cost money and I knew that it did.

  2. I’m a little further down this road, and I have a few tricks that work well. We are several hundred dollars and a few years ahead of you.

    1. My kids don’t know the password to the wifi. Yes, this is a bummer, no I don’t care.
    2. Get a small credit card, like one with a $500 limit. Use that for the app store and for loading prepaid cell phones
    3. Use all the parental controls on all the electronic devices. I know people think “not my kid” but I promise you, the kids are all at my house and it IS your kid.
    .-= Jessica Gottlieb´s last blog ..We Wrote A Book Y’all! =-.

  3. Yikes. I know my day is coming.

  4. I suppose this is my future. If I even manage to buy an iPad I will be sure to remember this. I hope they’re pretty virtual fish.
    .-= Marilyn (A Lot of Loves)´s last blog ..Scary Dragon- Wednesday of Few Words =-.

  5. I never buy apps on from my kids’ iPods. Instead, they only get apps via syncing. This doesn’t completely eliminate the problem as they do use my iPad or iPhone at times, where it is possible that I have recently entered my iTunes password.

    I’m guessing I’ve avoided this problem primarly due to the ages of my kids (11 & almost 13). They are unlikely to make an accidental purchase and know full well that I will charge them for any purchases they do make.
    .-= Ren´s last blog ..Smoke Detector Batteries =-.

  6. Here are the details to one option: To disable in App purchases, close the App and go to: Settings > General > Restrictions. Press “Enable Restrictions” and enter a passcode. Scroll down and turn the “In-App Purchases” option Off.

  7. As someone who was once a teenager who went over our AOL dial up minutes (remember those?) more than once on purpose behind my mother’s back, I am TOTALLY vigilant about this sort of thing. Because I’m absolutely certain my kid is just as devious as I am.

    For the moment I have my six-year-old extremely well trained to ask a parent’s permission before downloading anything, anywhere (free or not). I accomplished this by explaining that some downloads have viruses or don’t work well with the system and could cause the computer / phone / whatever to stop working. But I get the feeling this will only work until the day he decides he knows more about technology than I do. (Which may not be far in the future.)
    .-= Jaelithe´s last blog ..Five Reasons for Apathetic Voters to Vote =-.

  8. OH my! Well, at least it was $20. Not $200.

    Alex was sent to the store recently for 2 bags of baby carrots and one package of mushrooms. He came home and innocently tried to convince me that I had said vice versa. The mistake wasn’t so mistakish as the mushrooms each had $5 in farmville cash.
    .-= Serendipity Mine´s last blog ..Oh Baby I love you now excuse me while I wipe up my vomit =-.

  9. BabyFirstTV says:

    VERY enlightening, to say the least! Scary how kids don’t have to be tech-savvy in order to purchase fish, music, etc. etc. We like they way this blog gives Moms helpful, insightful advice. Very refreshing.

  10. Here’s a good one you will appreciate, Erin. Jenny and I were driving back from the museum field trip last year with Jordyn and Spencer in the back seat of her Explorer. In order to entertain them after their conversation grew thin, Jenny opened her “tapfish” app on her iPod and handed it over to Jordyn and Spencer. They had a blast, apparently.

    When Jenny went to feed her fish a couple hours later, she discovered that the kids had SOLD them. All of them.
    .-= Kimberli´s last blog ..Hebrew School =-.

  11. Oh Kim… I got a very good laugh out of that!

  12. Erin, considering how often people’s itunes accounts get hacked I would advise you to just remove any credit card info you have stored on your app store account.The iPad app store& the itunes store use the same credit card/gift cards, so you can buy itunes gift cards in small denominations at any drugstore/ mass merchandise store, put them in your purse & use them as needed when you want to buy apps.

  13. IPads are giving our children basically a run of the real world. and just to make you calm getting it done in the real world would have cost you much more than 20 bucks.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Moms Who Blog, catrina gomez. catrina gomez said: Kids & iPads: Fish Bucks Are Not FREE: It seemed innocent enough — a free iPhone app that let him create a virtu… […]

  2. […] 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 […]

  3. […] Kids & iPads: Fish Bucks Are Not FREE – Queen of Spain Blog When Jenny went to feed her fish a couple hours later, she discovered that the kids had SOLD them. All of them. Kimberli´s last blog . Hebrew School My ComLuv Profile. 11 Queen of Spain November 13, 2010 at 21:27 pm . […]

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    Kids & iPads: Fish Bucks Are Not FREE

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