I’m always on the look out for helpful advice on parenting. So, when Rob Kornblum told me he was writing about the topic, I was really excited. He is an Internet entrepreneur and a former venture capitalist. Rob has a blog called StartLaunchGrow and is about to publish a book, “It’s Never Too Late,” which is about mid-life entrepreneurship.
Here is Rob’s guest post.
You can hear it, right?
The ripping and tearing of wrapping paper and the squeals of delight. The sounds of Christmas morning or Chanukah gift opening. But do the kids really need more STUFF?
This holiday season, in addition to all the toys and trinkets you will get for your kids, you might be able to give them a gift that will last a lifetime- the tools to become successful entrepreneurs.
Maybe you dream of your kid becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg. Or maybe you realize that the era of “go to college, find a good job, settle down” is long gone. We are in an era of multiple career changes, distributed work forces and free agency.
Are my kids going to grow up and start great companies? I’m not really sure. But even if they don’t, I’m convinced this is a good gift, because they will almost certainly need to think entrepreneurially to manage their own career. At some point, they’ll probably be an independent contractor or a freelancer.
So what are some concrete steps that you can take to help your kids learn to be entrepreneurial?
One thing we know as entrepreneurs is that things rarely go as planned. One of THE most important skills we can teach our kids is perseverance and grit. Unfortunately, most kids today are not developing this crucial skill. How can a kid learn to persevere and push themselves when “everyone gets a trophy”?
There are a number of ways to help bolster your kid’s grit.
Put a challenge in front of them that you know they might struggle with. Help them learn to set goals toward that challenge, and also how to use systems to achieve those goals. By that I mean regular practice, even as little as 5-10 minutes a day, can produce new habits and extraordinary results. Let them see how small efforts and small increments add up to improvement over time.
Praise their effort and perseverance, rather than their intelligence or smarts or grades. Research has shown that praising children’s effort produces a “growth” mindset in which children thrive on challenges. Rather than saying “You did really well on these problems,” try saying “You must have worked really hard on these problems.”
This can help them see that failure is not something to be afraid of, but that we all get up from our failures and move on.
One really interesting and fun way to promote perseverance is to teach your children more about your family. Don’t just teach them any family facts, but particularly ones that help your kids to see themselves as part of something bigger. According to research from Dr. Marshall Duke (New York Times, Bruce Feiler, March 13, 2013,) kids who know more about their family history can handle stress and show more perseverance than those who do not. “The answers have to do with a child’s sense of being part of a larger family,” said Duke.
My wife and I have had fun teaching our kids about when our grandparents came to this country, where our parents went to school, how we met and ultimately married, and other family stories. And not just the history but the traditions and the context. All of these can help kids overcome hardship because it gives them a framework and a context for their own struggles.
“The most healthful narrative,” according to Duke, “is… called the oscillating family narrative: ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’ ”
Even if you’re not an expert, helping your kids learn the basics of personal finance is a great way to get started. Most people believe that a child should get an allowance and many experts suggest that kids have their own bank account. Learning how to budget, how to save for something they want, and allocating some money toward charity are great life lessons for every child.
If your kids are a little older, help them to learn the basic financial terminology of business. Lemonade stands are great fun, but imagine using the lemonade stand to help your kids learn about revenue, expenses, and profits. It’s really easy to run a lemonade stand if Mom gives you the lemonade and the cookies, but imagine if they had to buy those things, or even buy the stand. If you’re really unsure about these concepts, you can learn it with them at a free web site like kidsfinance.com or khanacademy.com.
Entrepreneurs are always discovering new ways to do things and also finding things that they are dissatisfied with and finding better ways to approach them. So many great startups, including eBay, Facebook, and Uber, were created to solve a founder’s “problem.”
Curiosity and lifelong learning is something that you can spark in your kids through reading, science, building with Legos and many other ways.
One way to bolster your kids’ curiosity is to help them think about what could be improved when they find things that “stink.” The next time you or your kids are complaining about something, ask them “What could be better about that?” and maybe the “better” version could be a company solving that problem for lots of people.
Technology skills are crucial in today’s society and workforce. Kids obviously take pretty natively to mobile and gaming, and it’s not much of a stretch for them to take that comfort and familiarity to learn programming and game design. There are so many good sites and applications for helping kids learn to code such as Scratch, being a Mod in Minecraft (if you don’t know, ask your kids), or online classes.
Even if your kids aren’t into coding, you can help them learn other technical basics like how to set up a web site, how to use Google analytics, or how to run a blog, or wiki. These are pretty easy for kids to learn and will advance their ability to test their own ideas.
One thing that I am doing right now is learning alongside one of my kids. Like a lot of bloggers, I needed to beef up my knowledge of HTML for my blog. So I’m talking a Udemy.com class and decided to do it with my teenager. He’s excited to learn and already asking me when we can sit down and go through the next module.
One of the things I have seen my kids and most young entrepreneurs struggle with is planning. Because their school learning is so structured, kids follow a structured plan or syllabus for almost all of their class work. When I mentor entrepreneurs, even college age founders, they struggle with basic planning skills like goal setting and breaking down goals into subtasks. Teaching your kids how to plan may be one of the most important skills they need as an entrepreneur.
There are two ways I have tried to help my kids learn how to plan. The first is short-term and medium-term goal setting. I ask “Where do you want to be in two weeks?” and “what are you going to do, and when are you going to do it, to get there?” The second way is to encourage regular habits of practice. I ask them to work on something for 10 minutes a day, with a calendar and a red pen to ‘X’ out the days. This is especially powerful where the goals are harder to quantify.
Involve Them in Your Efforts
Most of us learn through experience, and your kids are probably no exception. If you’re an entrepreneur, let your kids see what you do in your business. You can help open their eyes to the world of entrepreneurship, not just the meetings and e-mails, but the cool parts like your company’s mission. Show them the stuff that moves you, the stuff you’re passionate about. How you help customers. I have some friends who even take their kids on business trips.
There’s a funny thing about startups with multiple family members. After they get past the life-and-death startup phase, they become “family owned businesses,” like Wal-Mart and Fidelity, one of the biggest categories of employers in the U.S.
You might think being an entrepreneur is risky- you might not want to subject your kids to that kind of risk. But isn’t it risky for them to try to navigate corporate America? College, grad school?
Think about it this holiday season as you wander the aisles or eCommerce sites looking for gifts. Give your kids some real tools for their future. Maybe they will become a startup CEO, maybe not. But it will help them navigate their path… isn’t that better than a bunch of new stuff for the holidays?