Whatever Happened to “Hey Mom, Can I Have 20 Bucks?”

Amazon introduces a new way for teens to spend their parents’ money online, no talking required.

Capitalism can be fun for the whole family.


Amazon wants to empower teens to spend their parents’ money. What, like it was hard before?

The retail giant introduced a new program this week for the children of Amazon customers to use their parents’ accounts to make purchases and stream TV shows and movies. Kids aged 13 to 17 can now link their own accounts to their parents’, and parents will be able to oversee kids’ activity through setting spending limits and text and email purchase approval. All without having to see their kids in person!

This codifies a process that was already taking place unofficially: For as long as it’s been possible to buy things online, kids have logged into their parents’ accounts to do so. Of course, it goes back further that that, to that age-old request: “Hey [mom or dad], can I have 20 bucks to [insert activity here]?” How the new program will work sounds needlessly complicated to the point of absurdity, like something you’d dream up for a movie satire about how modern technology is wreaking havoc on family life: Users are supposed to communicate via Amazon notification when kids need to buy a book for class (as in the example Amazon cited in its press release) and then parents have 48 hours to approve.* So much for a gentle pat on the arm and the words “Sure, slugger, anything for your education.”

Of course Amazon is happy to insert itself into these kinds of interactions, because ultimately its goal is to be part of every spending decision anyone makes anywhere. Amazon also sees a convenient opportunity to hook a new generation of customers—those kids will have their own accounts already when they turn 18, and boom, time to pummel them with offers for all the stuff they need to buy for college and young adulthood.

Amazon’s age range of 13 to 17 is another slightly laughable element of this initiative. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act restricts websites from marketing to children under 13, but in practice, we all know kids are online and using services like Amazon way before they reach their teen years. By the time they’re 13 to 17, they’re advanced enough internet users that keeping them out of their Amazon accounts in probably the least of parents’ concerns—does Amazon have any suggestions for keeping teens from ordering drugs on the dark web?

*Correction, Oct. 13, 2017: This post originally misstated that parents using this feature have 30 minutes to approve or deny their kids’ charges using text messages. Parents have 48 hours to approve, have 30 minutes to cancel orders that have gone through, and can do this in text message or by other means. (Return.)