Lots of talking heads are out there giving advice about kids use of the Internet in various ways, from Facebook to email to online gaming. Not too many, of them, however, address eBay. Even if you already have a policy about or process for shopping online in place with your children, eBay is something of a different animal:
- eBay allows for
selling as well as
- eBay purchases vary in risk from item to item and seller to seller
- Both new and used goods are available
- eBay shopping can involve communication and interaction (between buyer
- With lots of formats, feedback, bidding, and item conditions, eBay shopping is unusually complex
For all of these reasons, it's useful to think about eBay as its own case, and to ask whether or not you want your children to buy and/or sell on eBay. Here are a few things to keep in mind that can help you to make the determination for your family, and to decide on the practices or policies that make the most sense for you if you choose to make eBay available to your kids.
Kids and eBay Shopping
There's so much fun, collectible, and cheap stuff on eBay that kidsparticularly older kids that are beginning to develop their own interests, goals, and hobbiescan naturally gravitate toward it. But before you let your kids haphazardly browse or shop on eBay, it pays to be aware of what's at stake.
- Be sure that you understand eBay shopping first. eBay shopping is
complicated. Really complicated. So complicated that lots of adults struggle
with it. So before you think about letting your kid in on the action, be
sure that you understand the differences between
types of listings, how to
evaluate eBay feedback and how the
feedback system works, how to evaluate
item conditions in descriptions, how
bidding works and how to
buyers' mistakes, at the very least.
- eBay's complexity isn't just about eBay. eBay's complexity isn't just about
using the website and all of the clicks and vocabulary terms that this
entails; there's a a social component to eBay (evaluating and
communicating with other people, judging their intentions, reading between
the lines of auction listings, and so on) that kids may not be sophisticated
enough to come to grips with and that parents may not want their kids to
directly participate in.
- There is adult-oriented stuff on eBay. Even if you haven't seen
it, there is adult-oriented material on eBay. There's an entire section, for
example, dedicated to adult items and the listings are visually and
textually explicit in a way that can get very NC-17 and beyond. These items
don't appear in normal search results, but can be reached by browsing
through eBay's categories and confirming (with a single click) that the
person browsing is of age. If you're the parent that blocks adult-oriented
sites with filtering software or services, this is something to be aware of.
Just as importantly, even outside of adult-specific categories there are a
lot of things on eBay that can be troubling to young people, like things
associated with the reality of warfare (gas masks,
weaponry, and similar historical artifacts, for example) or things
meant to be whimsical during holiday seasons like
Hallowe'en. There are also
things that parents may not want some teens getting ahold of, like
Nazi memorabilia or medical equipment and supplies.
- An adult should probably always be present. For all of the
reasons above, giving your kid free reign to shop on eBay before their mid-
to late-teen years without your supervision may not be a good idea. You want
to be sure to be there before they get caught in a bidding war for an item
they've fixated on, or before they miss the fact that the item is being sold
AS-IS or by someone with horrible
detailed seller ratings, and certainly
before they're exchanging contacts and communication with a seller out there
somewhere in the ether.
- You're responsible, even if your kid does something dumb. eBay's
underage user policy prohibits the opening of an eBay account to be
owned and operated entirely by and for anyone under 18 years old, but it
doesn't prevent kids from using their parents' accounts, so long as they
have their parents' permission. eBay makes clear, however, that anything
your kid does or agrees to while on eBay is your responsibility as the
account holder, and if you have a
PayPal account as well, you can be pretty
sure that eBay can enforce this.
- Varying item conditions mean that hopes can be dashed. Kids have
a fascinating ability to develop complex, specific expectations about things
like purchases. Often these are based on marketing and advertising that
they've been exposed to, or on social input from peers and friends at school
or on the playground. The trouble with eBay is that many items on the site
don't sell in retail conditions or configurations, but instead as used,
refurbished, broken/AS-IS, incomplete, or some other condition. Managing
expectations can thus be an important part of eBay shopping with kids,
particularly if price savings are the goal.
- None of this means that you shouldn't let your kids shop eBay. If you're not specifically against it after reading the items above and you can afford the time commitment necessary to help your kid to shop eBay, then it can be a tremendously educational and rewarding experience for both of you. eBay is a crash course in comparison shopping, close reading, critical thinking, social processes (like back-and-forth communication and bidding), and basic things like patience. It can also be an unmatched source for things like hobby or family fun goods that can't be had anywhere else. So if you can be there and you don't object, treat eBay like the great resource and opportunity that it is.
That's a lot to think about, but it just relates to buying. What do you need to think about if your kid is asking you to start selling on eBay? Read on to find out.