All Teens Want for Christmas Is Bitcoin

Amid the barrage of videos on TikTok, a popular social media app you probably haven’t heard of if you’re over 25, there’s a recent clip of YouTuber Ronald Vledder. In it, Vledder dances exuberantly around his room in a green hoodie and sunglasses, singing along to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You.”

As the chorus reaches its climax, the music shifts. Vledder suddenly turns to the camera and deadpans “Fornite V-Bucks” instead of the expected “you”—a reference to the virtual currency used on the popular multiplayer shooter game. The video has more than 31,000 likes.

Though Vledder is 23, many of his fans—some of whom have made their own copycat versions of his video—are younger. This year, many of these Gen Zers are asking for V-Bucks and other forms of digital currency, like cryptocurrency, as holiday gifts for the first time, according to a recent report by investment and asset management firm Piper Jaffray. Further, the study found these teens are putting cryptocurrency and V-Bucks at the top of their Christmas lists, over traditionally popular items like gift cards and plain old cash.

The popularity of V-bucks, which are used to make in-game purchases (like outfits for a player’s virtual avatar), isn’t hugely surprising. But the fact that cryptocurrencies are becoming popular with some teens—especially during a lengthy bear market—is. Forty-eight percent of millennials said they believe bitcoin is a positive innovation in financial technology in a recent Harris Poll study, and, as awareness rises among the general public, digitally native teens are finding they may have a leg up in understanding the intricacies of cryptocurrency.

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Increasingly, teens are learning about the benefits of bitcoin from posts in their social media networks and online games. For some, cryptocurrency offers a form of financial independence and autonomy while still living at home with their parents. For others, an early interest in bitcoin can serve as the start of a lucrative business. We spoke with a few of the teens that would love nothing more than to wake up to bitcoin in their digital wallets on Christmas morning.

Among them is Erik Finman, a teenager who became a millionaire thanks to his preternatural gift for bitcoin investing at age 12. He first received bitcoin as a Christmas present from his brother in 2011—a fitting gift, as months earlier, Finman made his first investment in the then-fledgling cryptocurrency. The middle schooler used the entirety of a $1,000 gift from his grandmother to purchase bitcoin, then just $12 a pop, a decision that would prove to be incredibly lucrative.

“I really liked getting it as a Christmas gift,” Finman says. “Getting [cryptocurrency], even if it’s $10 worth of bitcoin, is better than getting something like candy. It’s an investment, it’s learning, and it’s really novel.”

Finman’s brother gave him bitcoin in the form a novelty physical “coin” with a wallet address containing the digital currency. (Many of these physical coins have now been banned by the Federal Trade Commission as a result of rampant reports of fraud.) Though Finman misplaced the gift shortly after he received it, he eventually unearthed the coin in his room last year. By that point, the 25 bitcoin had swelled in value to nearly $400,000.

While not everyone may get so lucky with such a gift, Finman now returns the favor, giving his family members and friends bitcoin of their own each holiday season. Last year, during the cryptocurrency market boom, he promoted the benefit of gifting bitcoin during the holidays in an interview with CNBC, calling it a “great stocking stuffer.”

For teens less well-versed in the complexities of bitcoin, video games like Fortnite are serving as a gateway to understanding virtual currency. As awareness grows, so too does burgeoning demand to bring cryptocurrency into their day-to-day lives: On Reddit, there are a number of groups filled with teens discussing topics like starting cryptocurrency clubs or finding ways to integrate bitcoin into payment options in their cafeterias.

One such teen, is Kalin Lalov, a 16-year-old living in Bulgaria who is a frequent commenter in r/cryptocurrency. Lalov said he was first exposed to crypto while playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (also known as CS:GO), a competitive first-person shooter game.

I got really addicted. I wanted to monetize my hobby so I searched for ways to make money playing CS:GO,” he wrote in an email. “I stumbled upon a post in a forum advertising a website which supposedly paid users 1,000 satoshis [0.0001 BTC] for each kill they got in the game, so I looked it up. Bitcoin came up and immediately got me interested. I forgot about CS:GO.”

For Lalov, experimenting with crypto allowed him a new form of financial independence that he wouldn’t otherwise have in Bulgaria, since individuals under 18 aren’t able to set up bank accounts. He uses it primarily to buy games, VPN services, and PC parts, and trades it regularly with select friends who he is slowly introducing to the currency.

“The most appealing aspect of bitcoin for me is the complete financial freedom I have,” said Lalov. “Before I couldn’t buy anything online. I always had to ask my parents for permission. Bitcoin changed that forever.”

It was thanks to Lalov that his friend Kaloyan Tsankov, who also lives in Bulgaria, started investing in bitcoin of his own. While he said he can’t think of anyone besides himself and Lalov that would truly want bitcoin for Christmas, he believes his peers will eventually catch up.

“Bitcoin appealed to me from the very beginning with its autonomy,” he wrote in an email. “I fell in love with the possibility to send money everywhere in the world fast, while staying anonymous and paying minimal taxes.”

“When the internet came out, all the old people didn’t get it,” Finman said. “But young people like us get it. I was into bitcoin when I was 12. I understood.”

Finman, the teenage bitcoin millionaire, said he is working to teach his peers about the power of bitcoin, in addition to working on new projects after selling his online education company, Botangle. Beyond fielding questions on Twitter from his more than 36,000 followers, he also speaks regularly at conferences like The National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists, where he said his “selfie line was longer than Buzz Aldrin’s.”

After his appearance at the conference in 2017, he said other teens came up to him and thanked him for encouraging them to purchase bitcoin back at his first panel there in 2015.

“When the internet came out, all the old people didn’t get it,” Finman said. “But young people like us get it. I was into bitcoin when I was 12. I understood.”

Whether or not teens are putting bitcoin on their wishlist this holiday season, Finman said he’s confident bitcoin will become an increasingly regular part of the lives of teens in coming years.

“It’ll make sense, like V-Bucks. [Teens will] see it and do it and it’ll be interwoven into their lives.”