When I was in elementary school I had a toy business. I lived near an arcade and learned how to earn the most tickets from one particular game. With a $5 investment, I could win four giant stuffed animals, which I would sell to fathers who could not win ones of their own for their own kids. They’d pay me a five-spot, which I would promptly reinvest into my machine to produce more tickets to purchase more enormous plush St. Bernards to sell to dads with children who begged for a prize to take home.
Oh, yes, the entrepreneurial spirit was strong in me early in life.
Thirty-five years later, it’s no surprise that my two daughters are carrying on that business-minded tradition in the new millennium. My 11-year old runs a toy company she started when she was just 8. With the use of the internet and sites like Fiverr.com and Etsy.com she has sold more than 1,500 of her products on four different continents.
My 15-year old has her own YouTube channel, which generates an income. She has more than 100,000 subscribers with more than 9 million views. My teen has learned how to not only create incredible videos, but also attractive thumbnails, eye-catching titles, and she optimizes her tags to get more viewers, which means more clicks, which then become income.
Should children really run their own businesses? Some argue that kids should be kids and that they’ll have time when they are adults to worry about inventory and profit margins. Instead they should be outside, riding bikes and building forts.
Passions and Business
Well, first off, “kids being kids” is not what it used to be. Bike riding and fort building have taken the backseat to PS3s, Xboxes and iPad apps. Besides, when a kid starts a business, she’s expressing her passions, and that’s precisely what we want our children to find in life.
When a child bakes and designs cupcakes every weekend to sell on the corner, it’s not that she just wants to make a couple of bucks, but she’s screaming, “I love baking! I enjoy experimenting with frosting art!” This kid has found what she’s passionate about. So, what’s going to happen? She’s going to make more cupcakes, and get better at it. People will tell her they are delicious. Sales will increase, and she’ll gain confidence. When a child has confidence in one area, it’s like the cold virus in a packed subway car … it spreads. She’ll find herself becoming confident in other areas of her life.
Math Means Something
I have been an elementary school teacher for 18 years, and kids are always looking at me cross-eyed when it comes to math. They’re wondering, “Why is this man teaching me this? When will I ever use it in life?” When a young person starts to run a business, they have to utilize math in order to stay afloat.
Recently, I introduced an economy system to my third graders where each student applies for a job, gets a monthly paycheck, pays rent for his desk, and can earn funds for improving on tests and getting compliments. The money can be used to buy items at the classroom store, at an auction, or even to rent the teacher for a recess or paint my nails.
After implementing our economy, you should see how students have improved in their math skills, and it’s because suddenly numbers have meaning, and there’s a reason to use them.
Students have discovered that there are entrepreneurial opportunities in our economic system. Some students have learned that I’m not the only source of income. A few have created their own businesses, selling handmade items for class cash, while others have purchased a classmate’s desk and now charges them rent.
Degrees and the Future
It used to be that if you got a degree from a college, you were guaranteed a job. Things have changed. There are more people in the job market today and less jobs available than there were 30 years ago. The bachelor’s degree job of yesterday is often unattainable without a master’s. And, if you want what used to be a master’s degree job, you’ll need a Ph.D. today.
And, even if their businesses don’t take them all the way into adulthood, as an employer, would you rather hire a young person who worked part-time at Starbucks, or one who managed their own manufacturing, advertising, marketing and shipping?
Eventually the arcade realized my machine was a bit too liberal with the tickets and my toy business came to an end. But, an entrepreneurial kid never stays down long. Soon, I was buying candy wholesale and selling it above retail at school, since I was the only source on campus. Great business, until I was called into the principal’s office and my second business lost its legs. Then, I realized, “What about car washing?”
Leon Scott Baxter, “The Dumbest Genius You’ll Ever Meet,” is the author of the parenting book, Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting, and the founder of the website SafetyNetters.com. He’s been an elementary school teacher for 18 years and the parent of two happy, successful daughters, ages 11 and 15.