“I have an embarrassing secret. And if you’re a millennial, chances are you've got the same one.”
The secret? Journalist Elizabeth Weingarten reveals in her Slate article,
“In Defense of the Digital Umbilical Cord,” that she is on her parents’ cellphone plan and “mooches off” their HBO Go and Netflix accounts.
Apparently she was shamed by a Glamour magazine article that chastised that it's not OK “if you’re 26 and your parents still pay your cellphone bill. Cut the cord on that family plan!”
Weingarten, a Washington think tank editor, defended her position by noting that she is self-supporting, lives far from her parents and only occasionally asks for personal and professional advice. Indeed, what goes around comes around, in that she helped her father set up a website and social media site when he started a business. Her parents certainly don’t mind, with both admitting it makes them feel more connected. Weingarten wrote:
To me, becoming an adult is not about entering into some ironclad social contract that requires you to refuse all help from your parents. Rather, it’s about learning to differentiate between the support that could be hurting your relationship with your family — and the support that strengthens it.
Her piece generated controversy and garnered more than 300 comments, including a number of “grow up and pay your own bills” posts.
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What’s the big deal? Are we stunting our kids' development as adults if we help them out by keeping them on our cellphone plans or sharing media accounts? We’re not the only ones: A Consumer Reports survey found that 46 percent of American adults share their streaming media accounts with people living outside their homes.
We did a little crowdsourcing of our own, asking moms in the Facebook group The Women of Midlife what they think about the digital umbilical cord. J.D. Rothman of Santa Monica, Calif., criticized the bait and switch of some parents, noting: “It's so amusing that the most helicopterish parents go into tough love mode at 25, after micromanaging every detail up until then.” She shares her Amazon Prime account with her son and says it evens out because “somehow my Uber account is tied to his credit card.”
Another mom, Kim of Davis, Calif., has no issue with paying for cell phonebills or sharing Netflix accounts. The mother of two millennial daughters wrote: "I like to make things easier for them, and this is a simple way to do it that doesn't cost me as much. I would cook them dinner once a week if they lived near me. I never thought that would make them less independent. They work harder than most people I know!"
So are we stunting their independence? The answer varies from family to family, of course. But family is the operative word here: Helping each other is what families do. Commenting on Weingarten’s piece, Otto Katz wrote about the Slate piece:
I pay for my 86-year-old dad's cellphone. I think of it as insurance. He sure wouldn't pay for one for himself. And I pay for my 30- and 26-year-olds' phones. Again, insurance. And a tie to family. The older sends me a check every month. The younger helps around the house. It works for us. Knits us together.
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