Erin Fuzer and her mom, Eileen, will sell about 200 boxes of Girl Scout cookies this year, but they won't knock on doors or hawk at cookie booths. Instead, they're using social media. Her mom took to Facebook, and Erin used Snapchat and Twitter.
"We started with a countdown prior to the first sell date, letting people know the cookies were coming," said Eileen, a troop leader from Mount Laurel. "I probably sold 30 boxes the first day we were actually allowed to sell, just through social media."
"I take a picture of a box of cookies and say I'm bringing some to school tomorrow," added Erin, 16, who sold 100 boxes in the first week.
Eileen's creativity, like suggesting good pairings of cookies with wine - a Thin Mint with a nice Sonoma Valley merlot being the most popular - paid off. "My work friends saw that post and bought 18 boxes," she said.
The Fuzers find social media more effective than traditional cookie booths "that are very time-consuming and involve a lot of work," Eileen said. "Social media is a good marketing tool that piques people's interest, makes it fun, and is definitely a time-saver. It's successful getting the word out, and we're getting instant responses with people's orders."
Erin sells more boxes, mostly at school, than her mom. But Eileen feels strongly that, as a parent, she should sell, too - the more money the troop can raise, the better for the girls.
"But the girls have to have ownership of the whole process," Eileen said. "There are cookie business badges that talk about entrepreneurship, running a business, and laying out a business plan."
Girl Scout cookies, now celebrating 100 years of sales, are big business. This year, at $4 a box (or $5 for gluten-free Trios) the organization plans to sell about 200 million boxes of cookies nationally by the March 12 deadline (that's nearly $800 million worth of Thin Mints, S'mores, Samoas, Peanut Butter Sandwiches ...).
Of course, the business of cookie selling has a long tradition of parental involvement; moms and dads have been taking the sell sheet to the office for decades (you can get only so much accomplished going door to door, especially when there are competing Girl Scouts). But when a parent takes it to Facebook or Twitter - racking up dozens of sales a post - what lessons does that teach a child? Is that too easy? Does a kid have to harass customers outside Target for five cold hours to learn the lessons of entrepreneurship?
The Girl Scout organization encourages sales through social media, recently introducing the Digital Cookie Platform - an online site and app where scouts can market cookies, set goals, track their progress and manage orders and inventory. There aren't specific rules about how much help a parent can provide, but taking over completely "goes against the Girl Scout laws to be honest and fair," said Jamie Mosser, service unit manager for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania. "It's not a competition; it's a learning experience for the girls."
It's also a good thing to have a shared goal with your child, says Myrna Shure, professor emeritus in the department of psychology at Drexel University and the author of Thinking Parent, Thinking Child. "It's a project they are doing together, and the child gets a sense of excitement that the mother is engaged in her activities," Shure said.
It's when the parent takes over that the child can get into trouble, Shure added. In the age of helicopter parents who do their children's homework, make their beds, and write their college essays, selling their cookies is just one more way to hover.
"The parent has to realize that children who are overly dependent can be perceived as weak by their peers at school, and those kids are often targeted by bullies," she said. "When the child doesn't have skills to deal with that because her parents were always doing the thinking for her, it becomes more and more ingrained as she gets into middle school and high school and will affect how well she functions in society."
For a child who is hesitant to jump into the process, the parent should start slowly, Shure advises. In a child's first year of cookie selling, just sell to close family members and friends with whom the child feels comfortable.
"Engage the child in thinking about what to say and how to say it," she said. For example, how much do the cookies cost? What are the flavors? The parent and child can also practice counting the money and making deliveries, taking small steps to help the child feel more comfortable until she can do some of the tasks herself.
You can be protective, but no need to be overprotective, Shure said, especially given the positive lessons cookie selling can teach: independence, responsibility, communication and entrepreneurial skills, and lessons in money and math.
It's those lessons that Cheryl Rollins appreciates. Her daughter, Teghan Sydnor, 13, relies mostly on door-to-door and booth sales. But the scout also sold 24 boxes through Instagram and texting, a small percentage of her goal of 200 to 300 boxes.
"I love going door to door, and I've learned how to talk to different people," said Teghan, of Voorhees, a goal of her mother's since they started selling cookies when Teghan was 5.
"I had her go to the door, and we talked about what she'd say," Rollins said.
Christie Weidner, mom of Willa, 9, posted cookie information on her private Facebook group of 63 current and former neighbors. "Within three minutes, I got a message from a neighbor who wanted to order Thin Mints," said Weidner, of Washington Square. So far, neighbors have ordered 34 boxes through Facebook, all of which go toward Willa's goal of 150 boxes.
But the Weidners also opt for traditional selling - going door to door and working booth sales. That means Willa, a fourth grader in Girl Scout Troop 9053, now knows how to make change, sort cookie boxes, and keep track of inventory.
She and her mother role-play selling strategies: Willa points people toward the vegan Trios cookie, and counters the everlasting on-a-diet excuse. "I explain Operation Cookies from Home, where you can order a box of cookies and instead of it going to you, it goes to the troops," said Willa.
Still, her mom must be the facilitator to help her daughter reach her goal.
"There's just so much I can have her do by herself," Weidner said. "Ultimately, I'm the one who has to get in touch, submit the order, and pay up front."