Amidst all the recent chatter about how our nations’ youth are failing to meet core standards in the public school system, there is one thing that Americans do well, and that is entrepreneurship. It has been the cornerstone of the country’s economic achievements, from early innovators and entrepreneurs like Ford and Franklin to current successes such as Gates and Zuckerberg.
At some point in time, most kids experience the brief joys entrepreneurship as they cart their lemonade stand supplies to the edge of the driveway in an early pursuit of the American dream. Yet, there is more to youth entrepreneurship than your occasional lemonade stand that occupies little Jimmy’s time for a few weekend hours. Of course it’s adorable watching him craft his stand and overly sweeten the lemonade that will make his customer’s thirstier than when they arrived; but in those few hours, he’s learning some very valuable lessons that he’ll take with him the rest of his life.
What most kids experience with that lemonade stand is pure ownership, something that is rare in childhood. Sure, you may be teaching your kid about responsibility and financial management through delegating chores, but chores are a micro-managed activity. There’s not a whole lot of creativity in emptying a dishwasher, making a bed or folding the laundry and putting it away. They are tasks that are dictated on performance and time. Though chores are necessary and an excellent way to teach important skill sets, they are not activities that a kid has complete control over. With entrepreneurship, there are numerous ways to solve problems. There is no one right answer and one wrong, simply success and failures. With failures come chances for do-overs; the most important lesson and opportunity that entrepreneurship provides.
Part of what is so enticing about entrepreneurship is ownership – ownership over ideas and actions and the ability to make decisions. It’s about freedom to call the shots and build something out of nothing. Over 700,000 people each year in the US take a stab at starting a business, partly due to the desire to be one’s own boss. A sense of ownership doesn’t begin at age 18 or after college; it’s a powerful force than transcends all ages, genders and socio-economic backgrounds.
There’s nothing quite like true ownership. It builds self-esteem and self-awareness. From that sense of ownership, mixed with youth entrepreneurship, we find other life-long benefits emerge. That lemonade stand teaches financial literacy, decision-making, strategic-planning, creativity, mathematics, innovation, communications, accountability, risk-taking, teamwork and delegation. All this from mixing up some sugar and lemons and sitting on the sidewalk waiting for people to stop by. Your child may not bring in a six figure income from his venture yet, but he did something significant all on his own.
Like most parents we want our kids to enjoy their childhood as much as possible and be free of the responsibilities of adulthood because they will spend plenty of time fussing over the realities of life once they fly the coop. The limited time your kid has to enjoy his childhood is undoubtedly valued; he likely won’t see this carefree time in his life until he retires. Yet, the bulk of his life will be spent making his way through the world, independently taking care of himself and his family. All of the lessons learned from his childhood, including those days spent behind his lemonade stand, will carry over into adulthood and help steer him towards who he will become.
While as parents we don’t know with certainty what our kids will become professionally, but we do know what they will need to know to get ahead and be competitive. And that’s part of our job to teach them.