Yesterday saw another step in the move towards enabling a child-as-consumer consumer: Billmyparents.com. Essentially, it’s PayPal, but without that silly age restriction that bars minors from using it. With Billmyparents, instead of entering credit card information for an online purchase, kids click a billmyparents button. The parent then receives a text message or email notification telling them that their child wants to purchase something, but the purchase will only be completed upon the parent’s approval. Currently, billmyparents is only available on a special shop with Amazon.com.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I like the idea that parents have the opportunity to talk to their teens about what they are buying and why they want it. It’s important for everyone to learn that just because you want something, that doesn’t mean you should have it, and it’s safer than giving your kid a copy of your credit card to use unrestricted. Speaking from personal experience, when I was a teenager, both of my parents worked, meaning there often wasn’t time for them to join me on shopping for school supplies or clothes, and the task of picking up groceries was sometimes delegated to me and my siblings. I’ll admit right here that (sorry Mom and Dad) not every single one of my purchases made with the card was ethical, but for the most part, I didn’t abuse the privilege. After all, my parents did look at the bill each month. I appreciated their trust in me, and it was helpful in a hectic household for other people besides my parents to spend money.
On the other hand, I don’t love that the credit industry is now extending to young people. It’s one more channel for kids to be told that they can (as it says on the shop) “get stuff now, no credit card required.” This is a horrible statement, both because it is misleading and because it is irresponsible. If billmyparents.com could brand itself as a helpful service doing some kind of good, instead of just one more way for kids to pester their parents, then I might feel differently. Besides, in reality, there are already plenty of ways for kids to shop online; all they have to do is use an account created with a parent’s credit card info. Billmyparents is simply codifying an existing practice, but bringing the credit card holders into the mix–which I think is a good thing, as long as it does lead to conversations about want, need and fiscal responsibility.