09:57 24 April 2013
In the early stages it's about feeding them on demand, but, sleep deprivation aside, the problems don't really begin until the demands to be entertained start - a situation not helped by the fact that children will often find the least appropriate things to be the most entertaining, like flights of stairs, detergent bottles and gas fires.
So, as a sleep deprived and mentally drained parent, it's not the worst thing in the world to stick them in front of a Disney DVD, or maybe let them loose on your smartphone or tablet to play on one of the many apps designed for their age group.
Of course, there are many people who don't share this point of view, but as long as kids do this alongside other types of play and physical interaction, the apps available on tablets and smartphones can prove to be both very educational and entertaining.
Our children are growing up in a world where technology is becoming ever more ubiquitous, so why not introduce them to it early on, just as we do with activities such as painting and reading? Possibly because, as parents, we might not understand the technology quite as well as we think we do, which can lead to a situation whereby our kids are exposed to unsuitable content or, more likely, are able to run up huge bills at our expense.
The latter is a problem I have first-hand experience of, having witnessed my son, who was six at the time, run up an iTunes bill of almost £200 on wagonloads of Smurfberries, to use as virtual currency in the virtual world of the Smurfs' Village.
And now, one year on from my cautionary tale - during which time countless similar stories have come to light and Apple has settled a class action lawsuit to the tune of $100million - the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has finally launched an investigation into the legality of how these so-called 'bait-apps' are marketed to children.
But will it go far enough?
The beginning of the end for 'bait-apps'?
'Bait-apps' are those apps that are free to download and free to play, but will charge players for upgrades, known as 'in-app purchases', that are necessary to progress within the game.
Although it's not clear just how widespread 'bait-apps' are, the OFT has found that 80 of the 100 top grossing apps in the Android store are those that are free to play and make money through in-game purchases.
And, to give you an idea of just how much this market is worth, consider that just one of these in-game add-ons can cost as much as £69.99 - which, as I found out, is exactly how much a wagon full of Smurfberries will set you back.
However, although charging that much for a one-click purchase in a game aimed at children might seem pretty outrageous, there's no law against it. This is why the OFT has turned its attentions to whether the marketing of these games is in any way aggressive or misleading.
The Consumer Protection (from Unfair Trading) Regulations 2008 make it unlawful for traders to strongly or aggressively encourage children to make purchases or to mislead their parents or adults into making purchases for them.
In carrying out the investigation, the OFT has written to the companies who develop these apps to gather information on how the in-game purchases are marketed to children and it is also looking for input from parents and consumer groups.
In addition, the OFT will examine whether the full cost of progression within these games is made clear when they are downloaded or accessed - for example, if a message such as "offers in-app purchases" is contained in a game's metadata (the piece of code that contains all of the information relating to that game) then this will make it easier for parents to filter out these games when browsing.
The OFT expects to publish its next steps in October, this year, so in the meantime, let's take a look at what you can do to protect yourself against this most modern of parenting problems.
How to curb your kids in-game spending
Anyone who has never been through the shock of seeing a child-induced, three-figure iTunes bill will probably think that those of us who have are either a little bit dim, a little bit lax or a little bit of both.
However, as I sit firmly in the camp that believes these sorts of games can actually benefit a child's development, I'm not going to stop my kids using any combination of pads, pods and phones to help train their brains and develop their hand-eye co-ordination.
All as part of a balanced program of play, of course.
And it shouldn't be underestimated just how easy it is for kids to run up huge bills in just a matter of minutes, particularly given the 15-minute window in which iTunes purchases can be made without having to re-enter a password.
If this is something that concerns you, then everything you need to know about child-proofing your phone can be found in our short video below...
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