How to raise entrepreneurial children
Raising entrepreneurial kids doesn’t mean trying to grow your own Steve Jobs. Instead it’s about deliberately fostering an entrepreneurial mindset one that our kids can then to apply to whatever it is they end up doing.
September 15, 2022
This piece was first published in The Globe & Mail on April 28, 2015.
Photo by Steven Van Loy on Unsplash
Last month I attended a panel called 'Generation squeezed? The outlook for young Canadians.' During the discussion, one of the participants turned to the audience and asked parents of children ages 18 to 24 years old to raise their hands. He proceed to tell us that we were part of the reason this cohort is struggling.
As a mother of three, I thought that blaming the parents was a bit of a low blow, but it worked: I put down my smartphone and paid attention.
It turns out that millennials are the most educated generation in history, yet youth unemployment in Canada is at the highest level recorded in two decades.
A core component of parenting has always been about trying to prepare offspring to be successful (or at least sufficient) in the economic landscape we envision or anticipate for them. This isn't just about modern hyper parenting. These same instincts are present in the natural world. Orca whales for instance, have been documented putting live seals back on the ice after catching them so that their young can practice their hunting tactics.
For the current crop of parents with young kids – mine are 9, 6 and 3 years old – it seems we should shift to actively trying to raise more entrepreneurial kids.
Automation, globalization, disruptive technologies and outsourcing are just a few of the factors driving the current seismic shift in the how careers and economic landscape operates.
According to a 2013 joint report from the United Way and McMaster University almost half the residents of southern Ontario are engaged in 'precarious employment' or work in jobs that share some of the characteristics of precarious work. This increasingly applies to 'white collar' and knowledge professionals working freelance or on contract. And it's a trend that's set to continue.
Robert Reich, a Berkley economist and former U.S. Labor Secretary, predicts that by 2020 more than 40 per cent of the American workforce will be freelance, contract, self-employed or engaged in some other contingent work arrangement. This suggests that the best move we can make is raise our kids as entrepreneurs.
To be clear, raising entrepreneurial kids doesn't mean trying to grow your own Steve Jobs. Instead it's about deliberately fostering an entrepreneurial mindset one that our kids can then to apply to whatever it is they end up doing.
The good news is that according to research by entrepreneur, Stanford lecturer and author Amy Wilkinson, The Creators Code: The Six Essential Skills of Extraordinary Entrepreneurs, these are all behaviors that can be learned, practiced and passed on.
Ms. Wilkinon advises parents to encourage their children to ask "how" and "why" something works.
"Successful entrepreneurs ask more questions than the rest of us. They are alert to their surroundings and find and fill gaps that the rest of us don't see," she says. Ms. Wilkinson also says that parents can "cultivate the traits of successful entrepreneurs by taking the sting out of failure." She tells the story of how the father of Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, used to ask his children at the dinner table what they had failed at that day. "Only when they had nothing to report was he disappointed."
Chandra Clarke says her own experiences as an entrepreneur have shaped how she parents and home-schools her four children – all under 10 years of age.
Ms. Clarke is the founder of Scribendi.com, an English language editing and proof reading service that she currently runs with her husband Terry. She has over 250 team members on staff and customers in over 100 countries.
She says she makes an effort to cultivate self-reliance. When one of her kids says "I don't know how to do this," she says that her first response is generally, "Well, figure it out!"
"Obviously, we'll provide guidance and a bit of help appropriate to their age, but we want them to arrive at an answer rather than being handed one."
Ms. Clarke also tries to teach flexibility. "We have a rough schedule and the kids do like the stability of a routine – but we don't want them to get so invested in one that they fall to pieces when a day doesn't play out according to plan. We hope this will help them handle a future of rapid change."
Psychotherapist Alyson Schafer, author of Honey I Wrecked The Kids, agrees that parents need to reboot the frameworks that many us grew up with in order reflect the world that our kids are facing.
"Old parenting traditions that were based on autocratic dictatorships which aimed to make children obedient and mind the will of authority do not work in the modern system. Instead we need to look to new styles and methods that are often not part of our cultural heritage."
This deliberate reboot is exactly what Dr. Carlos Rizo, a Toronto-based serial entrepreneur and father of three, is trying to do. He describes his own entrepreneurial journey like, "…living in a roller coaster playing 3D chess blindfolded."
While in medical school in Columbia, Carlos owned a hang-gliding school and shop. Since then he's been involved in a series of global startups in lifestyle medicine, patient advocacy and big data mining.
Recently he and his wife (also a doctor and entrepreneur) decided to take to take their kids out of their extra curricular activities and instead encourage more free flow time and games.
With a few pieces of Lego, they challenge their children to make different things, depending on the chosen subject or topic. They say it encourages "artful improvisation," – that is, the ability to think fast, cut corners, work with limited resources and riff off what's happening in the group.
"From my own entrepreneurial journey I think the best thing I can do is to teach my kids to learn about their comfort zones and provide them with opportunities to test their own limitations and understand optimized risk taking behaviour (when it's good and when it's just stupid)."
More Parenting Ideas For Cultivating An Entrepreneurial Mindset:
- Stop solving problems for your kids and instead help them to de-construct and then resolve them. First, encourage them to identify the real issue, then brainstorm some potential solutions and then finally have them choose a option and go with it.
- The frameworks of childhood are still fundamentally about being rewarded for following rules. Flip this. Instead, praise your kids for constructively and positively challenging the norms and asking questions.
- Develop your own patience – it’s hard to do any of this if you feel rushed or stressed. Trust me, it’s a daily struggle.