Spending money online
Advice for Parents & Carers
With the growth of mobile gaming, more and more young people are spending money online. Get advice on what you need to know to ensure your child does this safely and responsibly.
Gaming – Micro-transactions and loot boxes
The widespread popularity of gaming among young people has made it one of the most popular ways that children spend money online.
Although many gaming apps are free-to-play they also have premium features that you have to pay for to access.
From Fortnite V-bucks, FIFA Coins, and Roblox Robux, in-app currency allows young people to purchase in-game accessories like chests, cards, skins, or other special items to enhance their gameplay.
This currency is created to make it easier for young people to make microtransactions, or in-game purchases, at times without being aware of how much they are spending in real money.
Recently the Children’s Commissioner released a report “Gaming the system” focused on spending in online games. It made the point that “monetisation is where online gaming starts to look less like ‘play’ and more like gambling” and warned that children do not usually have effective strategies in place for managing their spending.
It also called for the government to classify loot boxes (virtual mystery boxes with randomised rewards) in popular games as a form of gambling and suggested that maximum daily spend limits should be switched on by default for child gamers to prevent overspending.
The latest Cybersurvey report showed that 43% of young people have spent quite a bit of money in online games.
According to Children’s commissioner’s report “Gaming the system” the amount children are spending is increasing with some spending over £300 a year.
Chasing particular rewards by buying loot boxes or unlocking premium game features
There clearly is a concern for young players becoming introduced to what has been described as a ‘gambling mindset’ when they spend money on a Loot box without knowing what is in it, taking a punt that the purchase will yield what they need or want. Equally, it might be changing how they understand the value of money and the reality of losing it. Some mention running into debt or worrying about losing money.
The pressure to spend money from friends or influencers
As the most popular games involve multiple layers working together or interacting, young people can be influenced to unlock premium features or buy certain accessories as a way to be more engaged with the group or a particular influencer that they value.
Using in-game currency to make in-game purchases can make it harder for young people with additional learning needs to understand how much real money they are spending.
Use tools to control purchases
If needed use parental controls to deactivate the in-app function through settings on your child’s device. You can also set up a password to download apps in the apps store or set up a family account to keep an eye on what they are downloading. See our Internet Matters gaming platforms and apps parental control how-to guides to find out how.
Talk about ways to manage what they buy in games
It can be tempting for children to spend real money (top spend could be up to £79.99) on these digital items so it’s important to talk to them about what they can and can’t purchase in the games. Also, it might be an idea to create a pocket money system that allows them to save up for things they want to buy to give them time to think before buying something in the heat of the moment.
Set rules and limits
Use the family agreement template to set some clear rules on what they should and shouldn’t do when it comes to downloading and making in-app purchases. Review these rules regularly to make sure they are still working for your child.
Spend some time watching them play to better understand what they do on the platform. This will give you a better idea of how you can support them.
Research on gaming and gambling to learn more
Digital gifting and live streaming
Another way that children spend money online through social networks is by live stream gifting. Popular in China, offering digital gifts to influencers during live streams on social platforms is something that is growing among young people in the UK.
Recent headlines around TikTok’s use of digital gifts on its platform raised questions around the pressure that young people felt to send money to their favourite influencer in exchange for a shout out, a like or a follow.
Apps like Tiktok, YouTube, and Twitch all offer ability to give your favourite influencer digital gifts particularly during live streams. Some gift s can cost up to £50 on some platforms. The gifts could be given to show appreciation, to receive or watch exclusive content, or in exchange for likes and follows.
On live streaming gaming apps like Twitch, “fans” are encouraged to gift their favourite gamer with Twitch Bits (500 bits are worth $8.40) and make donations during live streams. Often these influencers will shout out the highest donator so many compete to win this title. In addition to these, fans can also pay monthly subscriptions to get greater recognition as a fan on a stream.
While the minimum age to give digital gifts on TikTok is 18, the majority of apps like Twitch have a minimum age of 13 so it’s important to talk to children about this aspect of these social apps.
Some children may be lured into gifting gift because they believe that they will get a follow or special attention from their influencer so it’s important to talk to them about the value they place on this so they don’t fall into the trap that they need to pay to get attention or pay a hefty fee for not very much in return.
- Have a conversation
- Talk to them about which influencers they follow online
- Discuss the value of exchanging gifts for likes or shout outs
- Help them understand the intentions of some people online may not be simply to befriend them but to exploit them
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