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Second Shift

Should We Teach Kids To Monetize Their Passions?

Giving your kids an allowance for chores around the house might be teaching them an outdated lesson about work.

[Photo: Flickr user Jessica]

Every parent wants their kids to eventually become responsible, independent people. In an effort in that vein, I've recently started giving my eldest two boys (ages 6 and 9) an allowance for doing a few house chores.

The experiment has been moderately successful, but I’m planning to scrap it.

Instead, I'm considering a different approach—one that encourages my kids to learn how to monetize what they love to do. That notion might rub some parents the wrong way (and to be fair, it might not go as planned; it, too, is an experiment), but the idea, at any rate, is to help prepare my boys for the new world of work—where an entrepreneurial mind-set is arguably becoming more important than it's ever been.

No Allowance

The instigator of this parenting about-face is Cameron Herold, the entrepreneur who's probably best known for growing his company 1-800-GOT-JUNK? from $2 million to $106 million in revenue in just six years.

In his TED Talk on raising entrepreneurial kids, Cameron shares his own story of returning wire hangers to the dry cleaner for cash when he was 7 years old. Forbidden by his parents from having "a job" at such a young age, he learned to find money-making opportunities wherever he could. As a father, he's found ways to prod his own two children to do the same.

As Cameron sees it, "Allowances teach kids the wrong habits. Allowances, by nature, are teaching kids to think about a job." By contrast, he explains, "An entrepreneur doesn't expect a regular paycheck."

Instead, Cameron encourages his kids to walk around the house and yard and look for stuff that they think needs to get done. The idea is to teach them to find opportunities and then negotiate fair compensation for meeting those needs.

Kids naturally gravitate toward doing what they want to do as opposed to what they feel they should do, and Cameron's approach helps bridge the two. As Vivek Nasta, a father of two and the cofounder and CEO of the investment research app Scout Finance, told me, "Like any parent, I want my children to be happy. And for me, that means they grow up knowing they can do what they love on their own terms, and not by working toward someone else's idea of what that is."

They key is to give kids the initiative. "By teaching them how to make money doing what they love," Nasta says, "I feel I can give them the best shot at a fulfilling life—one that it took me a long time to find."

He continues:

My older son Kiren loves chess and dreams of being a professional player. He also knows coaching and traveling to tournaments is costly. I push him to tell me how he is going to keep playing when he isn't winning any prize money right now. By asking him to fund some of his trips by giving [chess] lessons to his siblings and cousins, I’m trying to teach him the value of linking his love for chess with pragmatic ways to foster that passion.

How To Teach Kids Entrepreneurship

Of course, there's more than one way to help kids find ways to monetize the things they love to do. Here are three ways to instill that entrepreneurial mind-set:

1. Reframe complaints. Whether it’s a technical glitch in a game they love, a design flaw in a toy, or just an everyday annoyance like soggy sandwiches or bunchy snowpants, have your kids brainstorm ways to make it better. Double points for actually trying to make it happen.

2. Position them as experts. Whatever your child's age, they're the expert in what they love—whether it's Legos, building forts, or YouTube videos. So encourage them to see themselves that way. Later on, this sense of expertise in a certain area will give them the confidence to build up skills and knowledge in a certain domain.

3. Let them contribute to purchases. The next time your kids start bargaining with you for something they want, don't just negotiate household or academic tasks as a way for them to earn the item or experience. Instead, challenge them to find a way to cover its cost in a related way. With younger children, this can be as easy as selling old toys in a yard sale in order to help buy new ones. With older kids, this can become more sophisticated—and fun.

I recently watched as one of my boys tried selling an exceedingly elaborate game he'd created to his friends and their parents. His effort was a flop. But it was also a great lesson to learn early: That an idea or vision can be your passion, and you can work harder on it than anything else, but its ultimate success rests on whether your customers or clients actually want it.

And that clears the way for a second important lesson: Failure isn't the end of the world. Once you've realized your latest venture isn't going to work, you can move on to your next one with a better sense of what will. Your kids won't learn any of that by taking out the trash.

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