We’re excited to share this guest post by Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Yourself. See below for information on how you can get your own copy of the book!
Of course we want our children to become successful adults. But how do we DO that? And how do we set them up to create their own success—instead of depending on a strong economy to carry them?
This past summer, my teenage daughter signed up for a trip to Korea. The price tag? $3,000. Rather than ask for money or get a job waitressing at the restaurant down the street, she did what many kids in the post-millennial generation are doing. She became an entrepreneur. She started her own baking business and raised that money one $5 loaf of hot, homemade bread and one $12 fresh-out-of-the-oven pan of cinnamon rolls at a time.
This work is different than what my husband and I did as teens; I worked as a cashier at a Burger Pit in San Jose, Calif., and my husband worked on a pick-your-own berry farm in southern Maryland. But among my daughter’s peers, becoming an entrepreneur appears to be the rule, not the exception, perhaps due to the tough job market, time conflicts, competition from older workers, or the fact they just don’t want traditional teen jobs.
So how do we, as parents, set our kids up for success and achievement of their goals?
Here are just three ideas:
Provide support for their entrepreneurial efforts (aka seemingly goofy ideas). Parents and adults need to support kids who take the initiative to start their own business or aim to realize a dream. I saw this with my daughter’s business. Our friends and neighbors could just as easily have bought their bread and cinnamon rolls at the grocery store, but when they saw that my daughter was willing to get up at 5:00 a.m. on Saturday to bake fresh bread, they were inclined to support her.
Here’s another example: Mark Cuban, an investor on the television show Shark Tank, once invested in a company called Roominate, an award-winning line of toys designed to inspire innovators. It was founded by two female engineers out of Stanford and MIT, and one of Cuban’s conditions was that the founders mentor his two young daughters. In addition to a financial return, he was looking for an emotional return on his investment for himself and an educational return for his children. Supporting kids’ ideas keeps them motivated while guiding them down a path to success.
Encourage our children to harness technology. Technology is changing where, when, and how early we begin to work. Take, for example, 17-year-old Nick D’Aloisio, an Australian app developer who sold his company Summly, which summarizes the news, to Yahoo for $30 million; or Adora Svitak, an American writer, speaker, and advocate who was introduced to the world at the age of six and whose 2010 TED talk “What Adults Can Learn From Kids” has over 3 million views. For these teens, the expanse of their network is not limited to their physical location. Because of technology, our kids’ “lemonade stands” can be on any street corner of any city in the world.
Praise hard work. The kind of feedback we give as parents can have a major impact on the implicit beliefs children develop about their abilities—including whether they see them as innate and unchangeable, or as capable of developing through effort and practice. For example, research has shown that children praised for hard work (“You must have worked really hard!”) over performance (“You must be really smart!”) on a questionnaire did better, persisted longer, and enjoyed the experience more.
Social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, in her article “The Trouble With Bright Kids,” supports this view: “People with above-average aptitudes often judge their abilities not only more harshly, but fundamentally differently, than others do, especially in Western cultures. Gifted children grow up to be more vulnerable and less confident when they should be the most confident…” In other words, if you perceive your smartness, cleverness, and success as an innate part of your identity, when you fail, the failure becomes a referendum on you. Praising effort encourages kids to keep working hard even when things don’t go as planned.
Today’s unique confluence of circumstances—a tough economy, increasingly competitive college market, expanding networks and shifts in technology— has created a culture much different than the one we grew up in. And, in many ways, it is much more exciting. As parents, we have the power to help our kids turn these challenges into opportunities and to spur positive change not only in our neighborhood but across the world.
QUESTION: How have you supported your child’s entrepreneurial efforts?
CHALLENGE: The next time your child comes up with a seemingly crazy idea, ask them, so what would you do next? And how can I help you make this happen?
About the author
Whitney Johnson is the author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work, and Dare, Dream, Do. Additionally, she is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review. Learn more about her at http://www.whitneyjohnson.com/or connect with her on Twitter @johnsonwhitney.
Personal Disruption (n.): The act of using a practice employed by companies — wherein a product deemed inferior by the market leader (Amazon v. Borders, Uber v. Yellow Cab) eventually upends the industry — and applying it to yourself and your career.