The WSJ Has Left Me Speechless—Almost

January 6, 2007 @ 3:15 pm | Filed under:

From The Wall Street Journal Online:

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
limits altogether.

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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18 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Anonymous says:

    I really need to know which Green Day song.

  2. Beth says:

    Well, I gotta say — this isn’t my family either!! (And I do have a teenager). This is one of those articles which brings home just how counter-culture the homeschooling, family-centered life we lead really is.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I had the same reaction to the article!

  4. Katy says:

    I won’t have a teenager for y more years–but I work with a lot of them, and it is scary how many of them seem to be “running the show” at home. I see the upper middle class parents who spendspendspend on their kids and never set limits, and then wonder how they got these awful teenagers who only think about money! The reality of stories like these is what continues to push me toward homeschooling (which I don’t do–yet).

  5. Mariah says:

    I have a teenager and this is SO not our life. He did just get an ipod and he does subscribe to an online game, but he pays from his weekly allowance and his dog walking job.

    It is a mystery how parents can feel helpless about this sort of thing. There are things I feel helpless about from time to time, but not usually things that have such a clear response.

    long time lurker, first time commenter

  6. Mary Beth P says:

    I think your right, Lissa. It’s the demise of the “family centered home”. So many parents lose control of their kids, and the joy of being with them, during toddlerhood. They do not spend very much time with them, and the time they do spend with them is not very much fun. They fill the void with endless activities and more stuff. By the time they’re even “tweens” (8-12), the parents have lost control! Here’s a whole new thread of discusssions we can have (aren’t we readers making your job easier)

    I do have to admit, though, from another angle, that we are a very video/computer intensive family. My husband & I enjoy video games, but we include the kids in it “with” us. It’s a family affair, and we have lots of fun with it. I think the key is doing whatever it is the family does, together.

  7. Susan says:

    Melissa, thanks for pointing out that article. From the excerpt you posted, it reads like one of those New York magazine pieces where anecdotal info is presented as both fact and a bona fide trend. But I’ll go read the rest!

  8. Cay says:

    I have three teenagers and I have to agree with Katy.

    A big factor in this—my theory from the stories I hear—is that the parents are so consumed with their own work lives and entertainment that they hardly know what their teenagers are doing. It’s a case of no one being home to protect the home front.

  9. J says:

    Did anyone share this article with their kids? Is anyone afraid to share this article with their kids? Were your kids just as surprised as you were?

  10. Tracy says:

    I did share the article with my teenager. He said – well, if they are running up bills, then they shouldn’t be allowed to have them (the Ipod or cell phone or whatever). He knows what would happen if he did something like that!

    My response to that situation certainly wouldn’t be to throw up my hands and give up! How on earth do those parents expect their children to learn finances like that? Real life consequences may be debt up to (and beyond) their eyeballs!

    My older kids get to see the budget to some degree at this point. We show them that we can’t get x and y and z – we have to choose. And we’re blessed that we get to choose among our wants – and get all our needs.

    Is this reporter on my planet? I’m really not sure.

  11. Jen says:

    With those downloads you don’t need access to money, just the phone number or account number.
    We had one incident of ringtone abuse and came down so hard, I don’t think it will ever happen again with this teen or the other 4 behind him!
    The real problem is with parents that are afraid or just don’t care enough to correct their teens behavior.

  12. Melissa Wiley says:

    What do you think the parents are afraid of? (I agree with you, btw.) Do you think parents of a certain generation are uncomfortable with their own authority, or with the very idea of being in authority over their children? Do they equate authority with authoritarianism, and therefore shy away from it?

    Or is it that they are too busy and distracted?

    Of course no one can really answer for a vague “they.” There is no real “they”–there are individual parents. But I do think there are trends in parenting, as in everything else.

  13. Joy says:

    Not happening in our house either. Our daughter is well aware that any unauthorized spending in this vein would lose her any and all electronic priviledges. For a VERY long time. At almost 13 and with a year of computer/internet/mp3 use under a belt, we’ve not had a problem.

  14. scott says:

    I really need to know which Green Day song.

    Don’t think I don’t know you’re assuming it’s “American Idiot.”

    [And not without good reason.]

  15. Keely says:

    I really wish that I could say that I’d never met parents or kids like those in the article, but I have. Unfortunately, my family is becoming like them. We don’t run bills up on cell phone ringtones or music downloads, but my parents don’t know how to say “no.” They always insist on spending excessive amounts on Christmas, for example, even when they can’t afford it. When I asked my mother to explain this, she insisted that my youngest siblings “would not understand” how much money had been spent on them. I think my parents think they are doing us a favor by giving us things they didn’t have growing up, but they really aren’t. I’d much rather have my parents show me how to be responsible with money than have them shower us with gifts and then struggle with bills. I’m in college and I’m seeing this from an outsider’s perspective, so I realize the full extent of the problem now, but I felt this way even when I still lived at home.

  16. J says:

    Hmmm . . . A big part of me wonders if budgeting can turn into one of “those” topics. When I was a little, my parents would cut out finance articles out from the local paper, put them up on the ‘fridge, and discuss them while my sister and I were captive somewhere (like at resturaunts or in the car). It used to embarrass my sister a lot. She’s grateful as an adult, but saving, budgeting and investing wasn’t her idea of what a carefree American child should be thinking about.

  17. Cay Gibson says:

    From what I have observed, parents seem to have a fear of not being a “cool” parent.

    My 16 yr old dd recently pointed out to me a mother and daughter walking together at the mall. They both had cell phones up to their ears and look-alike expensive namebrand purse on their shoulders.

    Parents today feel that money buys coolness and their teenager’s respect.

    I think another big factor is that money-spending is out-of-control. The parents are in-debt and can’t seem to deny themselves anything so they can’t seem to deny their children the pleasures of life.

    It’s such a small price to pay, isn’t it? 😉

  18. Julie Bogart says:

    All I can say: everything’s changed. 🙂 Teens do have access to more options for spending than we ever did. I don’t think parents struggle with saying No as much as lacking experience how to regulate all these possible expenditures that are literally a click away. You don’t need a credit card half the time. You can just enter the account number and then you’re billed.

    In our house, we’ve just talked about it and somehow our kids ask permission before downloading things. We all have iTunes and computer games that come by mail and Netflix and Movies on demand, and, and, and…. that’s just the reality of a digital world.

    But somehow in our house, we just talk about it and make decisions and everyone seems perfectly fine with them.

    Some days I find a buck on my desk with a note telling me what iTunes song was just purchased. 🙂

    So I don’t know that it has to be a big deal, just a new deal.