What parent out there hasn't read some of these headlines and cringed?
"A Michigan mom says her kids used Alexa to buy $700 worth of toys on her credit card"
"Kendrick Perkins says his kids spent $16,000 on Fortnight using his credit card"
The combination of modern technology, the internet, and e-commerce has created a new challenge (and teachable moment) for parents everywhere: how do we best manage our kids' access to online shopping opportunities while also instilling an understanding of money management and the very real consequences of making online purchases?
A newly launched platform aimed at kids 3 to 12 years old tackles at least some of these issues, offering children the first safe and secure e-commerce platform where they can shop-without overspending.
Present Shop, from CAMP, allows kids to shop for gifts for parents, teachers, friends, extended family members, or even themselves (as a reward for doing things like chores or getting good grades, or just being plain awesome).
But the beauty of this modern-day shopping experience is that it allows parents to set a specific shopping budget ahead of time, ensuring there's no surprise spending or budget-busting. Oh, and as an added bonus for busy parents everywhere, the site saves parents time and eliminates at least one item from our to-do list by allowing kids to pick out gifts themselves or for friends and loved ones in advance of special occasions.
That said, is sending kids as young as 3 on an (albeit controlled) online shopping spree a good idea? Below, the pros and cons-plus expert input.
How does the site work?
A Present Shop experience begins with a parent or guardian visiting the site and selecting an event or special occasion that a gift is being purchased for. Next, the parent allocates a specific shopping budget (the options range from $30 to $200 shopping experiences). After entering payment information, the budget is converted into digital "coins" that kids use to purchase items during their shopping trip until the young shopper runs out of coins.
At its core, Present Shop provides kids with a chance to understand that there's a cost associated with the items they purchase online. Shopping for gifts on the site also subtly involves managing a budget. Here's how these two factors come together: As kids make purchase choices on the Present Shop platform, their basket of coins will visibly decrease with each selection. And each item available for purchase has a price tag of anywhere from 1 to 5 coins.
Yet another equally important take-away from the experience, Present Shop teaches kids about gifting things to those they love, which is no small thing.
The shopping experience itself is akin to an extremely simplified version of Amazon (think, a few dozen product options instead of...millions). There are also various categories of gifts available such as gaming gifts, tools, arts and crafts, and more. But very much unlike Amazon, this platform includes an animated mascot, Scout the bear, which guides young shoppers through the entire process with a series of visual and audio cues.
Before the experience is completed, young shoppers are also prompted to design a greeting card (if they're purchasing a gift for a special occasion). The card is printed and packed in a custom gift box that can be shipped directly to the recipient.
The cons: Screen time and gamification of shopping
Joyce Marter, licensed psychotherapist and author of The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life, tells Parents that there are a few potential downfalls to this type of online shopping experience geared towards young children. In particular, she notes that the use of tokens makes e-commerce sites feel more like a video game, rather than being connected to real dollars and cents. A token system, she explains, might feel more abstract to children than actually using monetary amounts.
Marter also ponders whether our kids really need more screen time. Parents, she she points out, are having a hard enough time setting limits with television, social media, and gaming.
"Kids need more opportunities to unplug from technology, and a trip with their parents to a [brick and mortar] store…would provide far more opportunities for learning, interpersonal connection, and screen-free time," Marter says.
The pros: Independence, encouraging giving, and teaching early financial literacy
However, Marter admits that CAMP's Present Shop, in its own way, provides an opportunity to teach children financial literacy and awareness of spending at a young age. And the sooner parents start having honest and real conversations about the value of money and the balance between spending and saving, the better. Plus, "giving gifts encourages thoughtfulness, planning, and also the learning experience of how to buy gifts within a set budget of tokens purchased by the parent," Marter adds.
"Parents could even set up an opportunity where kids earn their tokens by doing chores, which would help them understand the value of work and serve as a positive reinforcement mechanism," says Marter.
Tiffany Markofsky, CAMP's chief communications officer and co-founder, tells Parents that what makes Present Shop such a safe, controlled experience when it comes to spending is that it is the parent who provides consent in advance by setting up the shopping experience for the child to engage in.
"The parent sets the amount to be spent and decides who the child is shopping for," she explains, noting that as part of each shopping experience purchased by the parent, the platform generates a one-time code that the child can only use for that one-time experience during checkout.
Educators see the benefit in a site like this as well-including Nicole Nina, a school social worker who also operates the practice Mindful Mountains, which specializes in the treatment of children.
"These sites can help children conceptualize what money is, and what the value of a dollar is," Nina tells Parents. "Present Shop is allowing parents to teach their children about the value of money in a safe way where the mercy of hundreds of dollars going missing is not at stake. With an increase in credit cards and online shopping, it may be healthy to teach children what online shopping is from a younger age with healthy framing from parents."
That framing, for instance, could include parents having a conversation upfront with their children about the number of credits they're willing to give a child on Present Shop, thus exercising healthy boundary setting.
Nina also notes that platforms like Present Shop may serve as a motivator for children who are otherwise unmotivated to do something when asked.
"A child having access to their own site could give them the autonomy needed to self-start with tasks they wouldn't otherwise do, particularly for teenagers," explains Nina. "If this is the case, parents need to be cautious that they are not overtaking the space that the child feels they are cultivating on their own. This may be the first time your child feels a sense of accomplishment.
And here's one more lesson Nina suggests children stand to learn from Present Shop: thinking beyond themselves.
"The fact that the site allows children to pick out their own gifts for peers and adults is great," she says. "This allows children to feel autonomy over gift purchases for others and internalize lessons of altruism. Teaching children to think beyond themselves is a tough and allowing children to select a gift for others gives a great opportunity for parents."
The process of allowing children to select gifts for others can also lead to a conversation about the value of others. Parents might even use the opportunity to explain to a child that when we love and care about others, we do nice things for them.
"The act of allowing them to be an intimate participant in the gift giving process teaches them something that a lecture doesn't," says Nina.