Protecting your family from pop-ups

Protecting your family from pop-ups

Protecting your family from pop-ups

Colours pop, a zippy soundtrack fills the room, and your child is engrossed in an adventure with their favourite character on their tablet. Their smile is unmistakable until an innocuous bubble appears, and their game is interrupted.


The bubble is accompanied by a discreet cancel button that is SO well disguised; it could be a puzzle game itself. Seconds later, your bank account is £2.99 lighter. Now imagine that your child plays this game twice a day, seven days a week.

The danger of in-game purchases is an increasingly frequent worry for families. It's estimated that children aged 3-4 years old spend three hours a day in front of a screen. This rises to four hours for ages 5-7 and 4.5 hours by ages 8-11. Most screen time is spent on games and apps, which routinely lure children into making purchases.

Many pop-ups and ads are now designed to look like part of the app. For example, a surprise gift drops onto the screen mid-game, encouraging children to click a hidden ad, the' x' to cancel the pop-up doesn't appear for 10+ seconds, so a child becomes frustrated and presses the alternative option, which is usually the buy button.

Many games also push children to buy tokens, unlock levels or new characters to experience the fun fully. Many pop-ups also aren't appropriate for children, with some parents reporting banner ads for medication and sexual health products.

Of course, these tactics are something most adults are confronted with when using technology, but why is it so concerning when children are involved? Children are much more susceptible to forming parasocial relationships. Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships where one person invests their time and energy into someone utterly unaware of the other's existence. For example, a child might invest their emotion into a particular Disney character or celebrity. While a child’s emotional intelligence is still developing, they can feel emotional pressure to make purchases concerning characters or people they love. This is often the case with in-game ads and purchases. What is likely to happen if YOUR child's favourite Princess asks them to click a button to save their castle?

It can also be tricky for parents to know which apps are safe, as even apps deemed 'educational' can feature pop-ups. So, how can families safely support their children to use apps and games?

  1. Understand and utilise parental controls
  2. Use a tablet that offers the ability to restrict in-app purchases completely. All Pebble Gear tablets provide this feature.
  3. Turn on safe search if using search engines
  4. Explore sites and apps together

Becoming familiar with the above tools is essential but having open and honest conversations about the risks of using online devices is also vital. Ensuring that children feel confident to tell an adult if something concerns them during their internet use is critical in preventing damage to your bank account and your child's wellbeing.