Opinion | How to separate parents from their money

As soon as my oldest daughter started playing the online world-building game Roblox, she started begging for Robux, the in-game currency, which costs real-world dollars. After reading several stories about how kids accidentally spent a lot of money on purpose on add-ons like “ultra rare” or “legendary” status virtual pets, I refused to accept this scheme. No, honey, I will not spend my hard-earned US dollars on a queen bee who will probably end up working at a fast food restaurant in your adopted universe.

This week, I was reminded of my continued hard-line stance when I read Amanda Hess’s lovely article, “Does a Young Child Need an NFT?” (Spoiler: Probably not!) From Hess’ article, I learned about “Zigazoo, an app for kids as young as 3 that bills itself as ‘the world’s largest social network and NFT platform for kids'” . If you don’t know what an NFT, bitcoin or blockchain is, here is an explanation for you. I can tell you that when I tried to explain NFTs to my 9-year-old daughter, she said, “That sounds like Pokemon cards,” which… isn’t that all wrong?

Zigazoo also has an in-app currency, called Zigabucks. According to Hess, apps like this one are selling parents on the idea that their illiterate kids need a place to express their creativity and learn financial literacy while preparing to work for big tech. Or something.

In my opinion, this is just the latest way tech companies have tried to separate parents from their wallets. I’ve probably cited this article before, because I love it, but in 2013, Virginia Heffernan wrote about her 7-year-old son racking up in-app purchases in the DragonVale game, enabled by Apple’s iTunes store. “Infernal river casino and meth lab.”

Spending money on Robux or Zigabucks is arguably no more frivolous than spending it on LOL Surprise dolls, which I bought for my kids – I keep stepping on the little shoes and detachable doll outfits scattered around my house. But at least LOL dolls aren’t meant to teach my daughters anything in particular, except possibly if those earrings match those sunglasses.

In other news from The Times this week: Moderna is seeking emergency use authorization for its Covid vaccine for children under 6, reports Sharon LaFraniere. David Leonhardt explains why the approval process for a vaccine for younger children has been so confusing and frustrating. Last week, Matt Richtel delved into the mental health crisis among American teenagers. Emily Gould talks to parents who have been scarred by the chaos of the pandemic and have changed their minds about having more children.

Finally, in Opinion, a former Times travel columnist, Matt Gross, argues for a more hands-off approach to parenting. He writes, of his two daughters:

I sure hope that Sasha and her 9-year-old sister, Sandy, will follow in my metaphysical footsteps, one way or another. Ideally, they’ll grow up to be multilingual globetrotters with predilections for spicy food, subtly funky fashion, and making new friends. But as long as they don’t end up being greedy, selfish, or leading a fascist personality cult (I’m looking at you, Sandy), Jean and I will be satisfied.

It is a philosophical approach that I support, even if it is easier to agree than to follow. To that end, I told my oldest daughter that even though she wouldn’t pay for her Robux and would think buying them is a bad deal, if she wants to use her allowance to pay for them, she can. Until now she has preferred to spend it on a personalized water bottle, but if one day she can’t resist the allure of an NFT water bottle, I won’t stop her.

Parenting can be routine. Let’s celebrate the small victories.

We have been struggling to teach our almost 2 year old the concept of sharing. My little victory finally came when I went to change her dirty diaper and she yelled, “No! Daddy’s turn!”

—Carrie Norman, New Orleans

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