We all want what’s best for our kids. Sadly, they don’t always know what’s best for themselves. Every parent faces this dilemma. Sometimes it’s inexperience, other times it’s just kids being kids and defying their parents’ wishes whether or not it makes sense.
Now we can add another one, and this one may follow our children right into adulthood. A new report by Junior Achievement USA found that early nine-in-10 parents (88 percent) would be extremely or very likely to support their teen’s interest in becoming an entrepreneur as an adult, but less than one-in-three teens (30 percent) demonstrate that same level of enthusiasm for starting a business. This may not be a shock, since teenagers aren’t necessarily focused on much beyond high school. Their career plans have become just slightly more realistic than the “astronaut” and “movie star” dreams of their preteen years.
Still, being your own boss should appeal to teens who believe they’re smarter than their parents and everyone else. Don’t they all want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg? “Since the 2008 Great Recession, the country has been experiencing a net decline in business startups,” says Jack Kosakowski, president and CEO of Junior Achievement U.S.A. “Today’s young people grew up in the shadow of the financial crisis, which may explain their risk-aversion when it comes to taking the entrepreneurial leap.”
I respect Kosakowski’s opinion, since he runs Junior Achievement, an organization I adore. JA, as it’s called, shows children and teens the value of starting their own businesses, and it trains them in the concepts for doing so. However, I have a theory of my own, which complements instead of contradicts Kosakowski.
While Kosakowski focuses on the negative — namely, students might be fearful of the risks — I prefer to focus on the positive. Frankly, I don’t think American society or media touts the benefits of entrepreneurship. I’m not even talking about the financial advantages.
When I was a child, I knew that McDonald’s grew into the world’s largest restaurant chain because of a guy named Ray Croc. Of course, I also knew Walt Disney was laid off as an artist before he created Mickey Mouse. I craved starting my own business in elementary school because I saw how success wasn’t only financially rewarding, but also personally fulfilling.
Shortly after I started my own business, a new generation of entrepreneurs had captured the imaginations of young people. Stories of Amazon and Apple and tech companies being launched in garages stoked a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Today, those tech companies are dominant corporations. Who are the startup heroes today’s teens can look up to? I submit: Part of the problem is a lack of role models. Entrepreneurs should be recognized, not only as visionaries but as role models who take risk in exchange for great rewards.
That may explain why parents — who had these role models — are eager for their children to consider this risk. Also, today’s parents have witnessed anemic wage growth, and they don’t wish that on their offspring.
Coincidentally, November is National Entrepreneurship Month. JA is doubling down on its fine educational programs, but what we need is a public relations campaign that profiles the successful entrepreneurs. We also need to be local role models ourselves. Regardless if you are a notable entrepreneur or one that prefers to keep a low profile, we need to view ourselves as role models to our youth and even our employees and act accordingly. Up for the challenge?