The reading level for this article is Novice
One late evening I received the following email from a lady by the name of Emily. It went as follows.
I just want to let you know I am very impressed by you and your website. For someone who is only 18… you sure have the knowledge and experience of someone twice your age and more. It is refreshing to see the kind of desire and determination you have. Thank you for your inspiration. I’m sure your parents must be very proud. I’m also curious on how they have influence you as a child? I have two sons, ages 10 and 7… perhaps you can give me some tips on how I can help them to have the kind of determination you have. I want them to know that they can do what ever they choose as long as they have the desire and the willingness to work for it… however, it seems to fall on deaf ears, especially my oldest. At what age did you realized this is what you want to do? What or who have influence you the most growing up?
I do hope you will find a publisher for your book. It is very well written. I like the simplicity and yet informative approach to the audience. I look forward to reading the rest of the book when it is published so please keep me posted.
Well, I began to think when I received this letter. I thought to myself, “Well, I’ve had a pretty good childhood, but now it is over. Now, I’m on my own for the first time. I seem to be very motivated and have done pretty well in school. Why is it that I am so motivated? What has made me love what I do? What did my parents do to help me along the way? What other events have been crucial in my development?”
So, after a few minutes of pondering I decided to commit my thoughts to writing. I only hope that perhaps this article may help other parents raise their children to be motivated and to love life. Here was my response to Emily.
My parents have indeed helped me greatly along the way. I think very important was simply that they were supportive and that they made time for me. We never had too much money, but we were able to take a trip abroad every other year or so. I think one of the best things a parent can do for their child is to take him or her to another country. I’ve been to Europe five or six times. Experiencing other cultures like this really internationalizes one’s viewpoint and can often help avoid the “life means nothing and this town is boring so let’s do drugs and get bad grades” syndrome that so often happens between ages 14 and 16.
As most teenagers do, I had a phase lasting about 12 months in which I was bit rebellious, did not care all too much about things, had red or blue hair, and experimented with drugs and alcohol. What brought me though the other side, however, was that I had supportive parents, that I was still doing well in school, and that I was taking some AP classes (AP History and AP US Government) that really made me think that being an anarchist was really not such a good idea. Without parents who cared and the knowledge that there was more to life than my hometown, Bradenton, Florida, things may have turned out differently.
Something else that my parents helped me develop was my independence. Too often, children turn 18 and either go to a local college and do okay (with their parents guidance) but never make a break and then are even worse off when they must finally make a break or go away to college and burn out and fail because they’ve never experienced such a level of freedom because at home they could not. At age 14, I was in London by myself for a day. At 15, I was in Spain and Mexico with a group of 350 other teenagers (with guidance but without our parents). At 16, I was in Belize without my parents (with 11 other teenagers, with some adult guidance). At 17, I was in Philadelphia and Chapel Hill for a week each by myself. This staged provision of independence is crucial to raising a free-thinking responsible adult who makes the right decisions when they are finally on their own.
Life is full of risks and if you micro-manage your childrens’ life so that they can avoid every single risk then they are going to have a very tough time when they are no longer living under your guidance. My car was totaled by a drunk driver in August of 2001. I had to spend the night in the ER. Thought I could have been killed, fortunately I was wearing my seatbelt. Every time before I left the house, my mom told me to wear my seatbelt. This saved my life likely. However, she did let go and let me have the freedom. She let me buy my own car and though she often worried about me, after I had proven my ability to drive she let go and let me drive (with more and more freedom as time went on). If she would have not let me drive in the fear of me being hit by a drunk driver, yes I would have been safer, but I would never be as independent and as able to take care of myself as I am today at 18
My mom also helped me greatly by always encouraging me to follow my bliss. When I got into baseball, she told me to go for it. When I started cross country, she told me to go for it. When I dropped out of a class because I was not interested in it and I felt I have more productive things to do, she listened to my rationale and then fully supported my decision. When I told her I wanted to start a business she helped me research the applicable laws and then told me to go for it. While sometimes we all must do things we do not want to do, (wake up at 6am every day, study for a test, etc.) we all must follow our bliss and do what we love if we are to keep our sanity.
Very helpful in my business development was being taken on board by a local business owner in August of 2001. Over time this guy became sort of a mentor to me and taught me many things about business. I came on as an independent consultant/paid intern and learned so much in the process of taking that company from zero to one million dollars in sales over the past 14 months. This experience has given me the knowledge, confidence and wherewithal to develop zeromillion.com and write Zero to One Million. Once your child does develop some interests, if he or she can find a mentor currently doing what your child is interested in this will benefit them greatly, I’ve found most people are willing to help out young people, especially if the young person can offer them something of value in return like the willingness to do an internship.
And if for some reason a mentor is not at hand, role models can do wonders. When I became interested in business, I found Michael Dell and Bill Gates. When I became interested in marketing I found Corey Rudl and Jay Abraham. When I became interested in economics I found Jeffrey Sachs, a Harvard professor and Hernando Desoto, a Peruvian economist. When I became interested in globalization I found Thomas Friedman, a NY Times journalist, George Soros, a financier and philanthropist, and Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations.
As far as parenting goes I think it is crucial to always keep communication channels open and each day strive to build and solidify a relationship of trust. A book that has some great insight into this is 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. If you have not already, I’d very much suggest that you pick up a copy. I’d also suggest reading Rich Kid Smart Kid by Robert Kiyosaki. He has some great ideas on education and gives some strategies for showing your child that this world is amazing, that life is amazing, and that anyone can reach their goals if they try hard enough and make the right contacts.
Also, be sure to teach your children how to manage their finances from an early age. Give them an allowance and have them keep records of how they spend or save it each week (for an additional 50 cents of course). As they reach 15 or 16, give them their own debit card. At 18, make sure they have an account in their own name. Encourage them to keep track of their expenses and balances by using software such as Microsoft Money. This early experience and provision of trust is crucial to developing a financially mature child that will not go out and max out all their credit cards as soon as they go off to college. The earlier they learn that it is not good to bounce checks or overdraw an account the better. Do also give them a copy of Rich Dad Poor Dad at age 13 or so.
I have always been able to get good grades without trying too hard, and I have been very lucky in this respect. However, if you ever see your children not doing too well I’d suggest helping them however you can. Education (both in the classroom and out) opens many, many doors. If your child falls behind, take the time to help them learn what they need to know. Show your children (don’t tell, show) the importance of school but also make sure they know that it is often who you know as much as what you know and in most cases it is what you do outside of the classroom that determines success. You must invest time in your children’s education. I was very fortunate in that my mom stopped working full-time when I was 4 and was always at home when I came home. Just knowing someone is there can do amazing things. Also, keep a communication line open with your child’s teachers at all times.
You must do what you can to show you children how great life is and the possibilities in life. Take them to a different state or abroad as often as you can. Encourage them to have fun in positive ways. If any child becomes interested in playing a sport or joining a club, be sure to support them in this and help them accomplish this goal.
Also, I’d suggest talking to your kids about sex and drugs early (at age 12 or 13) and telling them all the facts, yet leaving these decisions up to them. Once a child is around this age there are so many myths and rumors about these things and curiosity often kills the cat. I had a close friend kill herself at age 14 after a bad LSD trip. Make sure your children know the dangers (and benefits) of drugs early. Don’t threaten them or force a decision upon them. Give them the facts, make sure they understand them, and then let them make the decision themselves.
One other thing is to encourage your children to read. Read to them. Take them to the library or bookstore. Don’t force this upon them, but do let them know that you encourage reading. And lead by example. Let your children see you reading often. At this point in my life, I tend to read exclusively non-fiction, by choice. Don’t force reading upon them but do give them a chance to develop an interest for it. Reading often from an early age can do wonders for SAT scores, grades, and developing a passion for life.
Always encourage your children to go to college. From early on I knew I was going to go to college. I was perhaps given the impression that everyone went to college and as such simply assumed I would too. Encourage them to get good grades, become involved in school activities, and take classes that challenge them (especially AP or IB classes).
And when college application time comes, do help them out. Help them organize a list of there ‘potentials’ and help them refine this list. Let them visit (on their own if you feel they can handle it and if they prefer) each college in their final 5 or 6 choices. Going to visit UPENN in Philadelphia this past March was a great experience for me. It really opened up my mind to a new world of possibilities.
I am not much of an expert on how to help someone if their interest is not business, economics, entrepreneurship or marketing. However, if your children do ever become interested in these subjects or would like to learn more please do feel free to forward my email address to them.
I realized that these four things were my core interests perhaps only a year ago, when I was 17. Often it is not till this age (and in many cases much older) that someone finds their bliss. If your child has not found something outside of sports or hobbies that they absolutely love to study/do, I’d say just encourage them to keep exploring life and attend a college with a strong liberal arts program while they figure this out.
I hope I have helped. Do let me know if I can answer further questions. If your children ever have any questions on how to get through the perilous pre-teen and teenage years do encourage them to contact me.
Ryan P. Allis