Venmo and Bitcoin for Teen?

A teen loses money on Bitcoin Cash. His parents set up the account…

A smartphone screen from Venmo that displays chart of  Bitcoin investment.
Venmo Cryptocurrency . Image: Slashgear

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My parents set up a Venmo account for me ( a teen) so that I could buy and sell baseball cards more easily. I did that for a while but then Venmo flashed me an opportunity. I found that I was more interested in buying and selling Bitcoin Cash. So, I started buying Bitcoin Cash on their site and that worked for a while and then it didn’t. I lost a significant amount of money. How do I tell my parents about Venmo and Bitcoin? Finn, Boston

Dear Finn: There are three critical pieces of information missing from your inquiry-  first, your age, second how you replenish the Venmo balance , and third the dollar loss. I am guessing you are under 18, that is why your parents set up the Venmo account for you. Is the dollar amount- say more than $300?  But, don’t beat yourself up. From time immemorial, people have waged, gained, and lost on horses, stocks, slot machines, sports and lotteries. Here is my previous take on online investments.

Parents, who are not familiar with Venmo, should note that this platform began offering active users the ability to buy and sell cryptocurrency in April. The initial investment, which can be as low as $1.00, will rise and fall in value, just like a stock. There is a service fee, and you can’t transfer “coins” to another user, but you cash out the balance to a designated bank account. 

The Apology

You have to level with your parents, but they may know what’s going on since they set up the initial account, possibly with email notifications. Here’s some advice to get you going. First, explain to them that you have this entrepreneurial streak- that’s why you started trading baseball cards. You view crypto as the next big thing and want to dip your toes in the water…. If you say this you will be in sync with some of the big brokerage firms and analysts.

Also hint that you are interested in digital currencies because you see it as a generational sea change. Cyroptocurrency is the currency of your generation, the currency of the future.  Blockchain, the record keeping behind Bitcoin Cash will be embraced, then regulated by national treasuries. This might be a stretch, but weren’t you doing homework for a history assignment on El Salvador now that it has adopted bitcoin as its national currency?

Hopefully your parents will chalk your financial losses to growing up. It may be their trust that you have most forfeited. Be prepared to repay them the starting balance on your Venmo account. You can earn this money back on weekends or after school.  And, hopefully, fingers crossed, they will see a bright spot  should they need to offset some short term gains with a short term loss; they could be getting a statement from the IRS if you sold the cryptocurrency. 

Crash, Burn, Recover

What you are describing may happen frequently now that kids have phones and access to brokerage accounts. From the nineteen fifties onward kids crashed their parent’s cars- in the 2020s, kids also crash and burn on the Internet.  So, move on and don’t lose your curiosity and passion. However, I do want to close by mentioning the difference between using digital currency versus paper money. 

Our Federal Reserve banks have been tracking for some time that purchases with credit cards and electronic payments are overtaking cash. However, there is a concomitant trend to spend more and save less. Academic studies find that those using credit cards are less likely to remember how much they spent, take less time deciding what to buy, are more willing to pay high prices and make a greater number of purchases. Some brain research finds that cashless spending activates the same reward centers of the brain that are triggered by cocaine and other addictive drugs!

Could cryptocurrencies, like your Venmo investment, be particularly addicting and dangerous? Physical money is tangible, so when we hand it over to pay for something, we also give up something.  But, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin Cash lack intrinsic economic value (they are not tied to any asset) and are “frictionless” to buy and sell. Perhaps we all need to reflect on that as we grow up with them.

Do Food & Phone Lack Etiquette?

Food, Phone and Etiquette. A diner pulls out their phone while eating a meal.
Food, Phone, and Etiquette. From SWNS news

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My roomies and I celebrated the end of the school year by getting a reservation at a famous local restaurant. You would recognize the name. When we were seated, two of them kept their phones out and used them throughout the meal. It was not to take pictures of the food either. The server did not say anything, but I found it disrespectful. Do food and phone lack etiquette? Miao, S. San Francisco

Dear Miao: As you note, lots of people use smartphones to photograph their meals and post food photos. One third of Americans say they can’t eat without their cellphones, but remember these type of headlines are Internet bait!  But, to cut your friends some slack (my favorite expression) perhaps they were sending texts to others in the group who were on the way, needed directions, or running late. You would have known.

You can Google to find innumerable psychology experiments on the role of “bad” phones.  Professors run trials with their undergrads and the almost universal finding is that students concentrate better, remember more, and make fewer mistakes (on exams) when the experimental condition removes phones from the room.

Food for Thought?

For this 2018 study, the researchers asked more than 300 people to go to dinner with friends and family at a restaurant. Participants were randomly assigned to either keep their phones on the table or to put their phones away during the meal. After the meal, they were asked a variety of questions, including how much they enjoyed the experience. When phones were kept on the table, participants rated the time slightly less favorably, and were more likely to feel bored.

Is Your Phone the Centerpiece?

Now let’s apply some commonsense, home-spun analysis.  Many people dine by putting their phones face down on the table. I invite you to dine with me (or vice versa). In the middle of the table is a glass vase spilling over with an aromatic arrangement of greens and flowers. We remove it so we can see each other and not sneeze!

I now replace this centerpiece with a shapely carafe of red wine. We move it out, as you don’t drink. I replace it, center table, with an oversized red brick, then a kid’s water gun, next a thick unread library book, a Mexican sombrero, and so on. The point is that each of these items is evocative, and we will not completely forget about them as we converse. Like the smell of those fragrant flowers, they are still in the background.

Sherry Turkle has suggested in her recent books (2011, 2015) that the presence of the smartphone on a table- even if we don’t use it- does at least two things to our conversation. First, it moves us away from deep, important discussions (since we might get interrupted) to more trivial matters.  Second, it imparts to our guest(s) that they are devalued, they have less than our full attention. 

Woven In..So SPEAK UP!

Smartphones weave themselves into our daily interactions in a way that no other technology can. It is their nature to be mobile. We take them where we go, and they go with us. While we are at it, let’s not discount the role of the apple watch- when you check the time in the restaurant, and you also browsing the notifications?!

It is a vicious cycle. Perhaps this is what happened at your dinner table.  When we are in a social setting that feels unfamiliar, awkward, or socially uncomfortable we are likely to pull our out phones. Then we avert the lack of words and the pregnant pauses.  Meanwhile, the more we get in the habit of doing this, the more awkward and socially distant we become. A lack of practice makes perfect! 

In closing, I circle back to the observation that your roomies, aka foodstagramers, might have been taking pictures of the plated food since the restaurant is so well-known. Social media has definitely changed how we think about where we go on vacation, the hobbies we post about, and where we eat. Perhaps we we give more importance and immediacy to sharing a meal with digital followers than to the actual people at the dining table!  I doubt we can turn the clock back, unless we eat-in at home.  Alternatively, we disconnect and vow to stay present.

Birth Announcements… Print or Internet?

Hello World! Do new families share this on the Internet or in print?

A baby announcement that shows an infant and the text "hello world"
Birth Announcements: Print or Internet?
photo credit: (2018)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Am I out-of-date when it comes to birth announcements? I had a baby earlier this year, so I sent my friends and work-associates a small photo card with newborn vitals (weight, height, delivery date). My BFF is having a baby soon and says sending out these print cards is old-fashioned. She plans to post the baby picture by text and on the Internet (social media). She thinks it’s more personalized to reach out this way. Scarlet, San Francisco

Dear Scarlet:  First, congratulations to you and your friend. No matter how you announce this to the world, at the end of the day, parents rule and you must personally navigate these changing times of disclosure and sharing.

But, I rather agree with you, and would prefer that baby announcements be sent by mail, not by text or social media. And, I don’t think it’s out-of-date. When I searched on the web, there was a divide between those who still followed this practice, and those who found it arcane. 


It’s fun to pin these print announcements to the refrigerator door and oogle at the newborn- they are a visual reminder of how precious life is. That is a moment lost by social media. There, pictures flash by and get our attention for five or six seconds. Occasionally, we upload them to a cloud shared with a jumble of unconnected photos. Not everyone will save your printed cards, but recall that they also have useful information:  babies weight, height, spelling of name, and, of course, a return address should they send a gift. 

You probably don’t care if people send a gift, but the natural response of many people is to do this – even if you post on social media. In that case, the gift givers will need your address, and- surprise of surprise- we are back in the business of sending and receiving things in the mail.

Organic losS

My major issue with posting on social media (e.g. Facebook, Instagram) is that we cannot be sure that your announcements will actually be seen. On Facebook, the average reach of an organic post hovers around 5.20%.  That means roughly one in every 19 fans sees the page’s non-promoted content. Some of your friends may not hear about the baby if the algorithm finds other priorities that day.

Speaking of which, we give a lot of power to the algorithm when we use social media.  Businesses, both large and small, are likely to scrape the public feed to identify new parents so they can tailor ads  for them- e.g., rural/urban; baby boy/ baby girl, one parent/two parent home; etc. I don’t know if this issue is real yet, but posting pictures also opens up the door to train algorithms on facial recognition from birth onwards!  

Precious Moments

That’s a long run concern. For the short term, your friends are going to be wrapped up in their social media, checking to see who liked the post and going back to the platform to comment. That is going to take time away from baby.

This is the same issue if your friends choose text instead to post about the new arrival. Friends will want to say congratulations and get a  home address. But, a phone that pings and rings is an annoyance. It diverts our focus and attention, as well as that rare sleep. The first couple of weeks are precious, and deserve ‘time off’ from notifications and badges. 

In closing, I do recognize that the way we celebrate things publicly does change over time. Newspapers used to print birth announcements, and they got their data from the public registry.  I personally enjoyed reading them to learn what baby names were in vogue! No matter what medium your friend chooses, I am sure that her closest friends and families will find out and that is what counts.