As parents, we hear a lot about the things we should do with our kids. But it’s also important to flip that around and consider what we shouldn’t do.
As I researched and wrote my book, “Raising an Entrepreneur,” I interviewed 70 parents who raised highly successful adults about how they helped their children achieve their dreams.
Despite the diverse ethnic, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, there were four things that the parents of these smart, driven and entrepreneurial individuals never did when their kids were young:
Sports, video games, debating, music, birdwatching — every child of the parents I spoke to had a passion outside of the classroom. The parents never veered their kids away from the hobby because they knew it was keeping them mentally active.
Radha Agrawal is the founder of Daybreaker, a global morning dance movement with over 500,000 community members in 30 cities around the world. Previously, she was the CEO of Super Sprowtz, a children’s entertainment movement focused on healthy eating.
But growing up, her passion was soccer. With support from her parents, she and her twin sister Miki played three hours a day, starting from when they were five years old. Eventually, they played at Cornell University, where they were known as the “Legendary Soccer Twins.”
Although her career today has nothing to do with soccer, Radha told me that she developed a lot of grit and resilience from the sport: “You have to be disciplined. You learn to be organized and focused. And you learn the politics of teamwork, and what it takes to be the captain.”
It can be extremely tempting to constantly make decisions for your kids. After all, you’re the adult — you know your children better than anyone else does, and you don’t want them to suffer.
But successful parents resist that temptation.
Ellen Gustafson co-founded FEED Projects, providing food in schools for children. Today, she is a thought leader and regular speaker on social innovation.
Her mother Maura said to me: “We encouraged her to be independent, and to think for herself. I’d tell her, ‘Trust, but verify. Check it out. Be sure it’s true. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Just because everyone else is doing it, that doesn’t mean you have to.’ You want your kid to grow up to be cautious, but not fearful.”
“As a parent, you can see what their strengths are,” she continued. “But you have to let them figure it out. The best way to do that is by asking questions like, ‘What choice do you think would be more helpful to you in the future?'”
I have nothing against academic and professional degrees — my husband and I both have graduate degrees, and it has worked for us.
But a degree may represent an expensive waste of your child’s time if it has no connection to their interests. And if their only reason for being in school is to get the piece of paper or make the contacts needed to land a high-paying job.
Someone who loves something enough and works hard at it will find a way to turn it into a living, even without a degree in that field. And they won’t be afraid to tackle an opportunity that won’t pay anything for a few years as they might be if they had to pay off high student debt every month.
A final note about money: Although the parents I spoke to never pushed their kids towards pursuing a high-paying job, all of them made an effort to teach their kids about money in one form or another.
Joel Holland sold half of his first company, Storyblocks, for $10 million in 2012. He acquired a strong work ethic at an early age; he and his sister were given the job of sweeping to get their allowance.
“The floors had to be clean enough to eat off of. It taught me about hard work,” he said. “And in grade school, everyone had roller skates, but my parents wouldn’t buy them for me. They told me, ‘If you want them, you have to save your money.’ It made me angry at the time, but it really made me appreciate the value of money.”
His parents also didn’t pay for his college education. Joel went to Babson College on student loans and from the money he made from working.
“Because I paid for college, I never missed a class. I’d calculated the cost of each class at $500,” he said. “If I was tempted to skip a class, I always thought there is nothing I could possibly do during this hour that’s worth more than $500.”
I love Joel’s story because it illustrates why you shouldn’t teach kids that they must go after high-paying careers, but that it is important to learn about money.
If you’re passionate about something, and get really good at it, and get to know it inside and out, you will see something that’s missing, which you can turn into your business. Joel has done this twice.
Margot Machol Bisnow is a writer, mom and parenting coach. She spent 20 years in government, including as an FTC Commissioner and Chief of Staff of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and is the author of “Raising an Entrepreneur: How to Help Your Children Achieve Their Dream.” Follow her on Instagram @MargotBisnow.