Why We Should Ignore Child Labor Laws

“The future is already here- it’s just not evenly distributed.” – William Gibson

If you read my last post, you know that I want to change the way society thinks about what kids are capable of. Today’s post is the first of a series that digs a little deeper into that mission, so strap in and prepare to be surprised.

Did you have a job as a kid?

When I was growing up the options were pretty limited. The days of paper routes had come and gone, and I didn’t live far enough out in the country to get drafted to haul hay. The creative world was controlled by agents and publishers and labels. Kids didn’t stand a chance getting noticed. Dad ran two businesses but there wasn’t really a way for me to help out, so until that magic age of sixteen, mowing neighbors’ lawns was just about the only thing I could do to make money. I hated it, but that was just the way things were in the 1980’s.

The internet changed all of that.

Now tools for starting a business are ubiquitous and available to all ages (with help). Through innumerable digital channels, access to potential markets is unprecedented. Design services, web hosting, prototyping and manufacturing, print on demand, app stores, Easy, Amazon, Shopify, YouTube, Wattpad, the list of resources is very long.

Besides that, there’s a tutorial for everything these days. If a child has supportive parents, there’s nothing preventing them from starting a micro-business from the time they can read and write. Don’t believe me? Check out this story. That’s right, pre-teen kids can now earn income equal to some CEO’s while running their own businesses.

For me though, it’s not really about the money.

Kids are incredibly creative. Sure, many of the examples from that article are creating consumer goods. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The only reason that story got written is because the author knew it would draw millions of clicks due to the novelty of kids raking in six and seven figure salaries.

What if we gave creative kids the tools to solve some of the more thorny problems of living in the twenty-first century? What could their uninhibited minds achieve if we didn’t exclude them from those conversations? I think these are fascinating questions.

Maybe you disagree with me on that. That’s fine. Let’s get back to the consumer world.

We adults seem to obsess about “jobs” these days. It’s been a political focal point for so long that it’s stale. The waters are very muddy. I tend to think the jobs numbers are worthless. The days of “employers” being the measure of success for our economy are fading fast. What we should be caring about is whether or not people are able to create value that others are willing to pay for. James Altucher has been very vocal about this.

Every tool that I mentioned above is currently enabling new business models that could never have previously existed. There are people who rent chickens. Seriously. If you can dream it up, there are people out there who will pay for it. Entrepreneurship is the direction the world economy is going.

With that said, doesn’t it make sense to begin teaching kids where they fit in that space? Shouldn’t we stop pretending that they all need to go to college and try to get a job with a “good” company that will set them up for life? I think the answer is yes.

So where do you start?

Your kids’ interests will show you. What do they love to do? What causes groans and and complaints when you tell them it’s time for bed? What lights up their eyes? Make a list.

Even if it seems like all of these are acts of consumption and not creation, there’s still plenty of material for building a business. All you need to do is figure out how to add value. Here are a few general categories.

Creation – This is the most obvious method of value creation. Writing, art, music, inventions, building apps, and making movies all fall into this category. Some kids believe that people won’t want to buy something created by them, but I think that’s wrong.

Curation – The world is getting busier and more cluttered. If your child is someone who can find the gems hidden amidst the trash and match them up with an appreciative audience, they may never have to see the inside of a cubicle.

Connection – Putting people who want something in touch with the people who can provide it is valuable. This with this skill can easily parlay it into a steady income.

Coaching – I hate this term, but it does capture the essence of the opportunities available in the new economy for those who have the ability to teach, and teach well. With the world more connected than ever, the best teachers become even more valuable. Even if they only have 10,000 hours of playing Minecraft, there are those willing to pay to learn from them.

This isn’t a complete list, and I’m not saying that it’s easy. Most businesses fail. That is just a fact of life. But the earlier in life someone builds something that fails, the sooner they learn that it’s not the end of the world, the more likely they are to build a second and a third and a fourth. This is the attitude that prevails in silicon valley, and it’s likely why so many innovations hail from there.

So that’s the first part of my theory: We parents should be doing everything in our power to encourage entrepreneurship from an early age. We need to acknowledge that the world is changing and begin preparing our kids for that future.

If all of this sounds crazy, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

I am addicted to learning about why. From nutrition to neuroscience and philosophy to behavioral economics I am always seeking to understand. When I am not completely immersed in the latest book to catch my eye or practicing Brazilian jujitsu, I am usually cooking for my wonderful wife, playing with my two beautiful kids or out running with one of our dogs.

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