SAN JOSE -- Highlighting the challenges of parenting in the digital age, Apple (AAPL) has agreed to pay out more than $100 million to moms and dads whose children made purchases from apps downloaded from its online iTunes store without permission.

The proposed settlement to a class-action suit, which was filed in 2011 and will be reviewed by U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Davila in San Jose on Friday, represents the latest example of tech issue vexing parents, who now must worry about everything from how their children behave on Facebook to what mobile apps they are buying.

In the proposed settlement, Apple will provide iTunes credit to as many as 23 million customers whose children made "in-app" transactions for virtual goods without their parents' knowledge.

In some cases, parents were shocked to learn their children racked up hundreds of dollars in purchases with their credit card and PayPal accounts within a few minutes. Under the proposed settlement, parents who claim $30 or more can receive cash instead of store credit, a filing with the court said.

The settlement is aimed to reimburse parents like Naren Prabhu, a Silicon Valley networking engineer. "I've had my 7-year-old charge up a storm of over $600 via the in-app purchases," Prabhu said in an email. "I was not able to get any refunds from customer service for the iTunes Store, who said they could do nothing to help me."

The problem for some parents goes well beyond in-app purchases, said Caroline Knorr, parenting editor at San Francisco-based Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that helps adults manage the media and technology in their kids' lives.

"A lot of parents feel, 'I don't know anything about technology,'" she said. "That's how they got sucker-punched with the in-app purchases."

In 2011, Apple addressed the problem by requiring a password for each in-app purchase. Before that, children could go on a spending spree for 15 minutes before a password was required again.

Virtual goods such as "Smurfs' Village" Smurfberries and "Farmville" livestock are the new collectibles for children, said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that focuses on consumer protection in digital media.

"This is the new toy room," he said.

The lawsuit alleged that Apple offered gaming apps that were "highly addictive, designed deliberately so and tend to compel children playing them to purchase large quantities of game currency, amounting to as much as $100 per purchase or more."

Apple did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed settlement.

Knorr credits the Cupertino company for settling the case and changing its software to give parents more protection.

"I think that companies like Apple have a responsibility to make sure parents have the tools they need to ensure their kids have a safe and responsible online experience," she said.

Chester said developers of apps for children -- and adults -- should be required to disclose up front their aim to generate significant revenue from in-app sales and also should disclose data they are using to target consumers.

"The consumer needs to know what the rules of the app game are," he said. The proposed Apple settlement comes at a time of growing concern among parents that the same technologies that can benefit their children also can threaten them. Internet and mobile technologies have created new ways for young people to get into trouble -- from online bullying to sending sexually revealing photos through mobile devices to overspending on virtual goods, experts say.

"Parents are digitally inept," said tech writer and Internet safety advocate Larry Magid, who writes a column for this newspaper. "Sometimes parents turn over their passwords to their kids because they don't have a clue on how to use these things."

In December, the Federal Trade Commission unveiled a major update of rules that limit what information can be collected when kids under 13 visit websites or use mobile apps. And Facebook has reportedly explored ways to provide extra safeguards for users younger than 13 rather than continue its current policy that bans them from the site -- a ban that millions of youngsters have easily circumvented by lying about their age.

Experts say adults need to pay close attention to what apps their children are playing with and how they are behaving on social networking sites -- just as they would keep an eye on them horsing around in the backyard.

"I don't think technology is out of control," said Gilroy resident Dia Camarillo. "It's the parents' responsibility to not let their kids get out of control. You can't stop the technology from advancing, but you can control your kids' behavior and monitor their use of the Internet."

Heather Parker, a San Jose teacher of special education students, went so far as to call the Apple in-app lawsuit "overkill."

"Ultimately, parents should be more responsible for their kids' actions," she said. "If their kids get their passwords, it's the parents fault."

Staff writer Pat May contributed to this story. Contact John Boudreau at 408-278-3496; follow him at Twitter.com/svwriter.