A fifteen-year-old in Texas created the nation’s first algae-powered energy system. A thirteen-year-old in Ohio discovered an untapped market in luxury candles for men. And we owe our favorite summer treat, the popsicle, to an eleven-year-old who accidentally left his soda on the front porch overnight - with a stick inside. Indeed, kids are the future. Yet are we parenting them as such?
Kids are creative, smart and wildly optimistic by nature. They also happen to be annoyingly determined (unsurprisingly necessary in our current workforce). All qualities that, according to child prodigy and 12-year-old motivational speaker Adora Svitak argue are essential in today’s culture. “Who’s to say that certain types of irrational thinking aren’t exactly what the world needs?” Svitak says. “For better or worse, we kids aren’t hampered as much when it comes to thinking about reasons why not to do things. Kids can be full of inspiring aspirations and hopeful thinking. . . how many [adults] still dream like that and believe in the possibilities?”
Not many. Yet by fostering the same determination that breeds foot-stomping and door-slamming in prepubescent girls who despise making their beds, we, as parents, can help them change the world. In his recent TED Talk , entrepreneur coach Cameron Herold teaches the importance of embracing your child’s natural enterprising spirits, giving concrete examples for parents interesting in fostering these behaviors. Rule #1: Ditch the chore chart. “Allowances, by nature, are teaching kids to think about a job,” he says. “[They are] breeding kids at a young age to expect a paycheck.” Instead, Herold encourages his children to look around the house, yard and neighborhood to find work that needs to be done. This teaches them two things: (1) To seek out their own opportunities, and (2) To negotiate a fair rate for the task at hand.
Jan Owens’ would agree. She stopped paying her son, Connor, a regular allowance since he began his own business building science kits for kids as a bright-eyed fourth grader. “He had a “store” in our upstairs and invited the few who braved his bedroom to buy items he thought were interesting,” Now, as a serious retailer with thousands of fans across the globe, Connor’s original store is laughable. Owens reminisces, “We have rolled into many a meeting with CEO’s and marketing professionals to be met with surprised faces at the kid business “owner” with his mom in tow.”
Owens’ supportive role, however, doesn’t end at chauffeur. Indeed, there’s a more important path she’s taken in assisting Connor’s entrepreneurial efforts: teaching him how to fail. “Parents have to take the chance that, with the right situation and support, the learning process of occasional failure will have far-reaching positive effects. The goal is for the child to learn from mistakes and gain determination and confidence.” Owens writes. “[Connor] now has a capacity for handling frustration and difficult people with a tolerance and insight that far exceeds mine. He’s better at thinking things through now, and moves around life with style. That’s the payoff.”
New York Times Magazine writer Paul Tough explains the surprising benefits of failure in a recent article, What if the Secret to Success is Failure? “We all know — on some level, at least — that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge, some deprivation that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can,” he writes.
It’s a lesson that we, as a generation of entrepreneurs ourselves, can understand. But perhaps the greatest tool we have to aid in leading our children down an entrepreneurial path isn’t a tool at all – it’s ourselves. “I can tell that my son is learning about how important it is to lead a passionate life and to strive for what you believe in,” writes entrepreneur and co-founder of The Mother Company Samantha Kurtzman-Counter. “It’s one thing to try to teach those ideas in words, it’s another to show it every day. And equally as important for [my son] to see me struggling as it is to see me overcoming and succeeding: enormous life lessons for him to witness.”
Nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit in children is a rocky road, of course, but it’s a rewarding one. “We want our children to have the gumption to go out into the world and make it wonderful. That’s not easy, but it’s being done every day by awesome people,” Owens writes. And to fellow mothers of entrepreneurial children, she gives a single piece of parting wisdom:
“You’re going on an adventure, so pack well.”
Image Credits: Connor’s Kits for Kids via Uncommon Goods