Attention 12 year olds: Your millions are waiting.

1000-dolar billRecently I received a pitch for a fledgling TV series that teaches children “how to achieve success in life and business.”

Because I know when I was 8 years old, my utmost concern was achieving business success. Also, my mother accidentally forgetting to cut the crusts off my peanut butter sandwich, which may actually have been my utmost utmost concern. But business success? A close second.

And now, we commence waiting for the hail and locusts to come down and destroy us all. Park Slope, first.

Perhaps it’s a good idea, who knows. I mean, I like the notion of more girls in their teens getting involved with FBLA and I am always excited to promote kids that happen to be making cool things and starting businesses. But when we start institutionalizing the idea through mainstream media that kids need to be business moguls before they’ve sprouted their first underarm hair, are we going to far?

For a little perspective, I’ve been the mom who was in no rush to potty train. I’ve been the parent who lets my kid make her own messy gingerbread house instead of correcting her lopsided gumdrop eaves. I’ve believed that three after school activities is more than enough, and that we’re not “training” for ballet or soccer or violin, we’re taking classes so we can do things we love.

Am I the anomaly now?

I’ll admit it, I don’t want to raise a generation of millionaire minors. I want to raise kids excited to draw comics and read joke books and plan for three weeks just how to build the right fort for their first sleepover party. I want my kids to know not to cry if they don’t get a glee club solo because that’s how life is sometimes. I want them to know that not every kid gets a trophy. I want them to be so happy with the handmade card they slaved over for Grandma, not because they can reproduce them and sell 10,000 a month thus paving the way to a worry-free future, but because it made them happy to make someone else happy.

There’s plenty of time later for worrying about creditors and supply-side economics and the mechanics of distribution.

It’s possible that my perspective comes in part from a position of some privilege. I can safely assume my children will get a decent education and find their bliss and make a living. But I don’t get the sense this is a TV series targeted towards underprivileged kids who need a way out (so to speak). I think it’s more this crazy Tiger Mom culture pushing every adolescent to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. Only why wait until you’re actually in college, when you can skip lunch hour during 7th grade to conference in with your plant in China and make sure they’ve fixed the manufacturing issue.

A friend wrote to me in response to the pitch:

I had a mom at dance tell me that she wants her 8 year old to finish her next level in karate (even though the daughter wants to quit) because “it’ll look SO GOOD on her college application!” What?!?! Since when do you include a 2nd grade achievement on a college application!

Maybe I just don’t know too many people like this right now. Do you?


43 thoughts on “Attention 12 year olds: Your millions are waiting.”

  1. I have a lot of thoughts, but they boil down to this: I want my kids to explore their interests, figure out what they love, and pursue those interests for their own satisfaction. I want my kids to grow into happy, healthy, and self-sufficient adults. The specifics of who they become and what they do with their lives – that’s up to them.

  2. Just tell me it isn’t a reality show. I am no huge fan of reality shows overall, but I really hate the concept with kids.

    And really, I’d love to see people of all ages stop obsessing so much about getting rich and start thinking more about living a great life. Yes, having enough money is important. But so are a lot of other things, and once you get to “enough” on the money front, I personally think you’re better off optimizing one of the other areas instead of just trying for more, more, more money.

    1. Not a reality show. There will be “singing and dancing” and guest interviews, which is what makes me think it’s more Nickelodeon than for teens.

      My parents always told me “do what you love, work hard, and the money will follow.” I thought that was good advice.

  3. I hope you’re not an anomaly. I try to steer clear of people like this, but I definitely hear it on the periphery. It’s part of what worries me about raising H in Brooklyn.

    I love Julie’s thoughts. For me, I just want my son to be happy. I spent so much of my life “figuring out” what I “should” do. I just hope he does what he loves. I will encourage him to, that’s for sure. Agreed that it’s a position of privilege; regardless, I firmly believe that if you follow your instinctive passion, the *necessary* money will come.

    1. Come to my neck of Brooklyn Deb–I really don’t hear much about this kind of stuff. Or maybe it’s just a public school thing?

      1. I’d think your neck would be worse than mine. My son is only 18 months, so there is nothing specific, but I have tried to steer clear of the people freaking out already about pre-school and all that. Take a deep breath, people. It’s going to be okay. You’re in the 2%.

  4. I do agree that we have the luxury of knowing our kids have an advantage, having college graduates for parents, etc. so we can talk more about having fun and being happy. I was raised by very upper middle class parents who somehow stressed the need to find a practical career, although I know they didn’t do it on purpose, and I am trying to stress the goal of finding something you love to do, worry about making $$ later. (Except now we find ourselves in so much debt I do tell my children they better start making $$ if they want new toys). I see the obsession on my local news comment section, where everything in school should be about preparing for the “real world”, getting a job, etc and it saddens me. I was just invited to 1/2 event at Intel which combines science (the Intel science contest) with economics and business savvy – geared towards middle and high school, sponsored by a Chinese American Organization, which I’m forgoing for a neighborhood potluck 🙂 On the other hand, my kids go to to a school with well over 50% under-privileged kids, and there is a huge stress on college readiness and academics, having little market days and literacy projects, even at a very young age, and I can understand why it’s so important to start this early, even when I don’t agree with all the methods (test prep).

    1. You raise such good points. There are kids who need more college preparedness help at school because they may not be getting it at home. Don’t get me started on test prep!

      This makes me think about the difference between teaching kids responsibility with money, like you mention (babysit, paper route, earn an allowance) and emphasizing professional success. Maybe that’s where things have shifted lately, and what’s making me uncomfortable.

    2. My parents were more middle class and they stressed practicality too. And I’m like you.

      Then again, you’re right, what is needed in schools with less privileged children is a push toward readiness and skills and practical solutions.

      I think we all just overgeneralize our experience. When the city stresses breastfeeding, all the upperclass white women I know freak out about how the city is demonizing them for using formula. And I want to scream — it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. Rates of bf for African American poor women in this city are super low. Increasing those rates could make a huge difference from a public health standpoint. Step away from your own experience!!!!

      Anyway, what I mean is… it’s the same for education. Literacy projects are great — for kids who don’t or can’t get it at home. That doesn’t mean that every person who makes $300k/yr has to inundate their children with literacy testing (or whatever). I just want to tell people to get some perspective.


  5. I envy you that you do not know that many of these moms or dads….

    they are everywhere I turn which is especially difficult b/c I have one son who is myopically focused on performing well in one sport AND everyone thinks I push him to do this. uh, not. Look at my other son who is just a kids loving legos, riding his bike, hanging with friends, and practicing his drums only when he is not told do so.

    what is the point of pushing your kid to prep for college now? to do some thing that doesn’t interest them? or, basically make them feel like they are not good enough being them?????

    honestly – let them be. I just heard Marlo Thomas speak last week, and we all grew up with the words of Free to Be you and me in our heads – we need to do the same for our kids.

  6. I have a lot of thoughts about this. I want my kids to be kids. I want them to be good, kind, and fulfilled. If this means they happen upon something that others want–great. If it means they continue to use every piece of paper in the house to make paper airplanes and create–even more great.

    I think as parents we want our kids to have it “better than we had” but at some level, how much better is it? I want my kids to do what they like and I want them to be good at it–I know at some level that is my own ego that needs something, but I try not to pass that on to my kids.

    I believe fiercely that kids should be kids. They should have responsibility (cleaning their rooms, doing chores) and they should have that unadulterated freedom that comes with childhood. I don’t need mini-moguls. I have a hard enough time just getting lunches made. I couldn’t even begin to manage their managing of their business 🙂

  7. Hm. Unfortunately I think this creates kids who are greedy rather than kids who are successful. Success in the world I grew up in was doing what you love and having more money than month rather than the other way around. I also wonder if raising kids to be so success driven (rather than curious) will cause them to be so afraid of failure they won’t do anything outside their comfort zone in case it doesn’t work out.

    1. Great points Barbara. I wouldn’t be surprised. Nurtureshock has some really interesting research along similar lines; if I recall, kids who were praised for being smart (the result) were more likely to cheat or to take easier courses because the success was what mattered. Kids who were praised for working hard (the effort) were willing to push themselves and try new things.

  8. As a parent, I agree with you, and I hope against hope you are not an anomaly because it would be nice to feel part of a larger club.

    As a business owner I think the people pushing the money end of success have it wrong. My parents are artists and always encouraged my brothers and me to do what we love. I majored in music–hardly a field where anyone expects to make money. Through hard work and sacrifice and luck and some pretty good choices I’ve managed to arrive at a place where my husband and I run our own small business and by almost any measure it is successful. And I can honestly say I don’t make any decisions for my store that start with money. I’m careful to make sure we can cover all our expenses, but I start from what’s fair, what’s useful, what will bring people joy. Trust and reputation is more important than profit. Passion provides more incentive than spreadsheets. I believe the path to success for both business and life is the same: Do what you find fulfilling and try not to be stupid. Money in and of itself is boring.

  9. As someone who worked very briefly in kids TV development, I can say that this would have actually made sense pitch as the kids version of the musical “How to Succeede in Business Without Really Trying.” Not saying it would ever make to the screen, just saying that would make more sense. This is just kinda…weird. Really, really weird. I know that parents worry about all sort of things for their kids’ future. I even fall into the “must get int the perfect school trap” and my kid is two. But, unless this is narrated by Elmo or something, I just don’t get it.

  10. I see the end result of this focus in my college econ classes: poor kids who have been pushed into being business majors b/c they think they *have* to be successful (i.e., making $) and business is the way to do it. A lot of them come from underprivileged, immigrant backgrounds, so I get it, but I don’t agree with it.

    I spend a significant amount of time in class trying to be a model of someone doing something they enjoy because they enjoy it, not because it will bring them lots of money. I find a healthy dose of Marx and Thoreau (which always freaks them out in an econ class!) is a good starting place. 😉

  11. I agree with letting them follow their interests and not pushing. I let each kid have one brain activity and one physical activity (piano/baseball) and I try to teach them the value of using money wisely v. just having lots of money. But then I do begin to wonder if brains are enough these days to get them into college. They both have terrific grades and test scores but is that realistically enough? Will I regret this position in a few years? (boys 9&12) I feel like taking this position is the right thing to do, but I’d sure like to see some parents of teenagers and young adults adding to the comments for reassurance!

    1. Isn’t it so awful to have to worry about college when your child is 9? I mean, worrying about paying for it, sure…

    2. Hi MKM!

      I followed the “let them follow their interests” (and tried not to push, although sometimes kids can perceive pushing where you’re trying more to “encourage” than push, or to teach responsibility and follow-through). I am the proud mom of 3 college graduates (now aged 28, 25, and 22). I was not an athlete, and the things I did as extra-curriculars (band, debate, drama, public speaking, Girl Scouts) were not the things my kids were interested in. The boys did Cub Scouts but not Boy Scouts (despite my being a scout leader and excited about Boy Scouts because the men I know who were in Boy Scouts raved about it). They transitioned to competitive wrestling after Cub Scouts, something I knew nothing about, and not a sport with very many college scholarships — but I supported them, and still volunteer for score-keeping when their old high school hosts a tournament. My daughter did several sports in junior high, but dropped them all in high school. She tried Girl Scouts, Odyssey of the Mind, Camp Fire, you name it, but around junior high she found the Boys and Girls’ Club and that was the place for her (she ended up working part time as “junior staff” in high school and was named “youth of the year” at her club twice). None of them had a long list of activities, but they did what they were interested in, things they probably would have done whether or not college was on the horizon (since we could afford the fees and other expenses that accompany them).

      Bright parents tend to assume their children must be equally bright, but sometimes their kids end up closer to average. My kids scored well enough on their ACT exams to get into college and did OK grade-wise, so I *think* that would have been enough.. Would they have gotten into college without these activities? Probably. But there’s no way to know for sure. The acceptance letter isn’t going to tell you what made the difference.

      Participation in extra-curriculars is often encouraged “so you can get into college” or “because it looks good on the resume,” but I believe kids should get involved in activities because they’re good outlets for kids to “find themselves,” to keep them busy and “out of trouble” (although I question how effective that is, if they’re hell-bent on being rebellious), and because sooner or later they’ll find something they enjoy or something they’re good at, which will bring them satisfaction and great life-long memories. Do you remember the “good old days” of sitting in class or the “good old days” of band trips, basketball games, and play practice?

      While extra-curriculars are good to do, I’m not sure they’re absolutely crucial, or that you need to have a bunch of them to guarantee college acceptance. Grades, performance on entrance exams, personal recommendations, and critical thinking abilities as exhibited on their essay questions all go into the mix, too.

      The thing about getting into college is that it isn’t like your only chance to get in when you exit high school. Community college may sound like second place, but lots of kids in the college town where we live choose to go to community college for a year or two and then transfer (easily) to the university, saving lots of money in the process. This route may not have the prestige of getting into some highly respected college off the bat, but ultimately what matters is finishing, not when or where you start. Similarly, while employers may require a college degree, they tend not to care about grades; performance on the job is what matters.

      Hope this helps!

  12. I always find it refreshing to read your blog because I find that there aren’t very many other like-minded parents, at least not that I encounter on a regular basis. I don’t care that much if my 7-year old son is developing skills that will ensure his place on his college baseball team while he’s in little league, I just care that he’s having fun playing baseball and it would be nice if he improves his game a little along the way and develops some confidence. I refuse to let him play more than one sport at a time, even if the games/practices are at different times because it’s just too much for such a young kid to do – they’re overscheduled enough as it is with homework and whatnot. I wouldn’t let him play hockey because a lot of the games start at 6AM and I think a 7-8 year old kid is too young to decide whether he is committed enough to the sport to decide whether he thinks it’s worth it to give up other things to make that happen (like, he’d have to go to bed at like 6pm the night before those games). A 15 year old can make those choices but a 7 year old can’t and shouldn’t. Can you tell my kid is really in to sports?

    All I really want for my kid is for him to grow into a happy, healthy, independent adult who is confident in making the right choices for himself. Because I’m not always going to be there to choose for him and frankly, I don’t want to be, not when he’s 20. I like the “free-range” parenting mentality and the idea of sending the kids outside to play for a while. By themselves. I’m sure my MIL would have a heart attack if she knew half the things we let him do by himself (operating the toaster oven!). I just look at them as things I won’t have to do for him when he’s in college.

    1. Can a 7 year old go to a 6AM practice by himself while his mother is still sleeping? Because the answer to that would greatly impact my decision.

      Your kids sound awesome.

      1. You know, I seriously considered that very question for just a minute when deciding about hockey. Ultimately I realized that he’s really just barely able to ride his two wheeler and still runs into the street without looking because “I had to get the ball, I had no choice”, regardless of the fact that a car was coming. So even though the ice rink is actually in biking distance from our house (hey, it’s even a good warm-up for the game), I think it will be a few years before he can get himself there. Also I’m pretty sure I’d get a few angry phone calls from the coaches about that.

  13. For someone who admits loving Desperate Housewives, I’m not sure I’m with you on this. While I don’t think we should be teaching kids to equate making millions as the only measure of success, a lot of children are natural entrepreneurs and can be very frustrated by feeling like they have to wait to grow up before they can start to realize their dreams. Entrepreneurship and learning to handle money are incredibly important skills for children, or adults, to learn and ate not taught enough in schools at any level. Many argue that for the average kid learning entrepreneurship would be more valuable than learning advanced physics. If they need to make it a little over the top to get it on the air, Ill still take true mini moguls as role models over Snooki any day.

    1. I understand Anna, which why I linked to the post about your daughter’s awesome craft business. It’s great for children to learn entrepreneurship (or tap dancing or fencing or whatever it is they’re inclined to do) and have resources for that. I guess I’m worried about pushing 10-year-olds to feel competitive and financial success-driven. Honest question: If our values as a culture switch from “pursue your dreams” to “here’s how to make the most money,” will we end up with any educators? Coaches? Musicians that aren’t prefab pop bands? Entry-level white collar professionals who keep countless industries going?

      Snooki point? Well taken.

      1. I think our culture has already jumped that shark and many other tanks at the aquarium as well. This tv show is just reflecting that, not creating it. There’s plenty of crap tv out there and this show is most likely to suck and teach bad values like many others, but if I’m going to get indignant about tv this is probably not where I’d start. I’d rather see ambitious kids trying to realize big ideas than ambitious toddlers trying to fit their tiaras on straight.

        My main point though is that not all kids like ballet and hockey or dream of being musicians or teachers. Lots of them are passionate about business and making lots of money IS their dream. And for them that can be a healthy thing because along the way they are going to create things, solve problems and do fulfilling things.

        It takes all kinds and tv will exploit, distort and hyperbolize all of them in due time I’m sure.

  14. As a parents of 3 teens and 1 almost-teen (she turns 12, this month, EEEEP!) my husband and I have always tried to encourage each of our kids to follow their own path(s); to focus less on excelling and more on cultivating their individual strengths and gifts.

    As a first generation born American, with a high school level education, I am a firm believer in leading by example: there is no shame in working (really hard) to achieve your dreams and goals.

    I have serious entitlement issues, yes, I realize this.

    My advice to parents with younger kids: don’t listen to me, or anyone else; enjoy your children, revel in their childhood and stand firm in your beliefs, whatever they are, because once your they become teens and get into high school, your man/womanchild will be pushed to their absolute limits to succeed (and so will you), by individuals who will regard them as nothing more than a percentage, regardless of whether or not they attend a public or private school.

    With sincerest apologies, in advance, for the run-on sentence of epic proportions.

    *steps off of soap box*

  15. “I’ll admit it, I don’t want to raise a generation of millionaire minors. I want to raise kids excited to draw comics and read joke books and plan for three weeks just how to build the right fort for their first sleepover party. I want my kids to know not to cry if they don’t get a glee club solo because that’s how life is sometimes. I want them to know that not every kid gets a trophy. I want them to be so happy with the handmade card they slaved over for Grandma, not because they can reproduce them and sell 10,000 a month thus paving the way to a worry-free future, but because it made them happy to make someone else happy.”

    This is a perfect example of a “shard of brilliance. ” Thank you for talking so many of us off the inadequate- mommy ledge. At least for today.

  16. So, this is like Shark Tank for kids? Because that’s a fabulous idea. Not really.

    I think where this idea goes completely awry is the hyper-competitive, “How To Be A Kid Millionaire!” idea that it seems to be pushing. It’s not for teaching kids life skills, it’s for eyeballs in front of a tv watching the reality carnage.

    We’ve told our kids that they can pursue whatever interests they have, as long as they see through what they commit themselves to. Otherwise, I won’t feed them ideas like, “You need to be a millionaire!” and “You need to be a star athlete/singer/etc”, so they can come up with their own dreams. Their dreams for themselves will turn out way better than anything I could come up with, anyway.

    1. Someone needs to do the Apprentice with kids. Trump fires someone each episode and he cries.

      Or wait. Bad idea.

  17. Totally with you on the notion that kids should largely be the masters of their own non-school time; deciding what to do and how hard to work at it. It’s difficult, because one of my kids isn’t interested in anything that requires sustained effort, and I’m a physician, so….I don’t get that. BUT. It’s a TV show, right? So kids would watch it if they were interested (and probably some pint-sized entreprenuers would be) and if not they’d watch Good Luck Charlie or Jessie or some equally painful kids show. When I was a kid, I had a subscription to a magazine called “Penny Power” which I LOVED. It was basically like consumer reports for kids – it talked about the kinds of jobs kids might get (washing neighbor’s cars, taking care of pets – the target audience was probably 8-14 or so) what jeans and games and bikes were the best value (tested and reviewed by kids) what were the different ways to save money (savings account vs. CD vs. piggy bank). It was great! I think it helped me to think about value, using small-scale, practical, kid-based examples. Of course, if you look at my current retirement accounts and student loans, you’ll see it didn’t actually help all that much…

    1. You should check out, started by two blogger friends. It sounds like the modern version of that – kid video reviews of their games, movies, toys. Not quite about money per se but I find it really interesting.

  18. Occasionally people will say “Your cookies are so awesome. YOU SHOULD SELL THEM!”


    “Those baby hats you knit are so cute. YOU SHOULD SELL THEM!”


    “You should write a book and sell it. YOU’RE FUNNY!”

    While I take all of these things as compliments and testaments to my awesomeness, baking and knitting and writing are things I like to do because I like to do them, not because I’m going to be the next high-rolling Martha Stewart. I want my kids to like to do things, too, because they *like* to do them, not because they are necessarily going to earn money from doing them. Now if they do earn a living or make money from something they enjoy, awesome. I hope it’s that way. I want it to be that way.

    I loved this post, Liz, and have really enjoyed all the comments, as usual. And Kristen, above, reading “Penny Power”? That’s awesome. I love it.

  19. “I want them to be so happy with the handmade card they slaved over for Grandma, not because they can reproduce them and sell 10,000 a month thus paving the way to a worry-free future, but because it made them happy to make someone else happy.” Amen, sister! Though I’m regrettably not with you on the late potty training, I am DEF with you on the gingerbread house imperfect perfection…and with regards to this post…I am 100, million % with you. You are not alone. I have great memories of being an unsuccessful child and am now, somehow, a successful adult (I teach infant potty training – just had to out myself!). It took all those years of working slow without any pressure to succeed to find my own bliss and follow my own drum and all that fancy stuff. Without the former, the latter would not have happened the same, if at all. Lovely post.

  20. How right you are. I don’t believe either in pushing our grade school kids to become millionaires when they reach 21 or to plan what they will need to achieve so their resume looks good when they apply for a job. I think instilling the basic virtues of the value of money, saving from their allowance, and making them feel good when they spend it for things they need will actually build the foundation to make them financially savvy in their adulthood.

  21. I’m not pushing my kids to be moguls. I simply want to guide them and help them to become the people that they are destined to become. I do think about how we will pay for college, which naturally leads to thoughts of what will appear on the kids’ college and scholarship applications. But I am not the mom who pushes an uninterested child to do karate, or anything else. That’s toxic.

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