The rise of digital entertainment has upended whole
industries, from Hollywood to the music business. Now it’s striking at
a touchstone of the American family: the allowance. Kids are pouring
money into things that can’t be bought with cash — music downloads,
cellphone ringtones and online videogames. JupiterResearch estimates
teenagers spent $3 billion online last year alone. In many families,
the upshot has been the demise of the weekly cash dole that parents
have long used to teach kids financial responsibility and keep them
from busting the budget.
Instead, "giving the kids their allowance" now often
entails untangling a complex web of electronic transactions. It means
figuring out which sibling blew $29.99 to download Season 4 of "South
Park" on iTunes and getting someone to fess up for charging those Jay-Z
ringtones to mom’s cellphone bill. Some parents find themselves taking
on the role of bill collector and dunning their kids for reimbursement,
while others are throwing up their hands and giving up on spending
Okay, this paints a picture of a world so different from mine that I hardly know where to begin. I don’t have teenagers (yet), and I don’t have kids who are into ringtones or have any clue what South Park is. The only person in this family who has paid money to download a ringtone is, ahem, the mother. (A Green Day song to ring when Scott calls me, if you’re curious.)
But come on. Come on! Really? Kids are racking up e-bills and parents feel helpless to stop them? These kids are getting credit card numbers from somewhere. Surely their parents possess enough wit to figure out how to keep the cash card numbers out of their children’s keyboarding fingers.
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