NEW YORK – Hard work, persistence, initiative. Can the skills found among entrepreneurs help today’s young people navigate their way to success? Absolutely, say a developmental psychologist and a successful public relations company founder who have teamed on a new book, “Raising Can-Do Kids.”
Self-entitled kids may be able to navigate their way into the Ivy League, but it’s the self-motivated ones who have the skills to be trailblazers, said Richard Rende, the psychologist and researcher who wrote the book with Jen Prosek, CEO of Prosek Partners.
The book is out in August from Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Together, the two take on the science of success as it relates to entrepreneurship and parenting alike.
A conversation with Richard Rende, also a dad of a 15-year-old daughter and director of curriculum and instruction at a college preparatory school in Phoenix:
AP: Why take on the idea that parents can learn a thing or two from successful entrepreneurs?
Rende: What was interesting to me about it was the idea of taking on seminal issues, revisiting key concepts but looking at them with a fresh eye. The entrepreneurial perspective gives the long-range view on why these skills are important.
These skills, arguably, matter more now than they ever have. To Jen, there was a little sense of urgency that kids aren’t getting these things and they’re going to be the things they really need.
I think kids can learn from entrepreneurs what their value will be in the world. It can be anything, not just curing cancer or establishing world peace, necessarily. It’s to find in you what you’re passionate about and how you bring all your skills to bear on that. I don’t know that kids are as well-equipped as they should be to do those things. Not just supersmart but innovative.
AP: Are most kids natural entrepreneurs?
Rende: I think most kids are naturally entrepreneurial. There’s a difference. Our perspective isn’t so much that kids should grow up to be entrepreneurs in that classic sense but that they share entrepreneurial traits, like exploration and innovation, developmentally.
Babies are wired for exploration in that way of naturally searching through their environment for the right kinds of information. They’re wired to pick up on all these things, like watching a human face. So we take that through early childhood and the idea of how important it is to be exploratory.
AP: And there are other traits the two of you discuss.
Rende: There’s also the personal, things like optimism and risk-taking, but we have a different take on risk-taking. We talk about it as opportunity-seeking, learning how to seek out challenges and manage risk. That’s where the entrepreneurial framework was helpful to me as a developmentalist, to think about what we really want our kids to be doing, as opposed to jumping off of a building because it’s a risk.
It’s knowing how to push yourself a little bit to climb up a tree because it’s interesting to you to climb up a tree and not do it in a crazy way that will land you in the emergency room.
AP: Haven’t we as parents known some of these things for a long time?
Rende: Absolutely. I think the concern is that a lot of the things that we talk about in parenting culture pull away from these things, such as we keep talking about how kids are not being permitted to take risks and look at challenges the way that they used to.
That takes many forms. There’s limiting kids’ opportunities for physical play out of concern for safety, but also more psychologically, being able to mess up in school. It’s OK to get a B and consider that a challenge.
AP: How do you see Generation Me and Generation We playing out today?
Rende: It’s complicated. Kids are getting a message that it’s so important for them to focus on their accomplishments and on themselves, right? I don’t think they’re necessarily growing up in a social void, but I do think there’s so much pressure on them to achieve that it does take away from their ability to have the opportunity to learn about being more connected to people and the value of that.
It’s the type of thing where kids really need to just have more messaging. For example, at Princeton, they revisited their grading policy because they’ve been known for having a real strict quota about what percentage of kids could get an A in a class. They started to worry about that and realized it was undermining kids’ natural tendency to want to help each other out. That’s a powerful way of thinking about what’s happening with kids.
AP: The notion of narcissism among kids today is a hot topic. Is that word thrown around too much when we discuss parenting?
Rende: It’s thrown around without the appropriate caveat of what it is really meant to be. It can be looked on as a personality trait. It’s about not being so concerned with others and it spins off into discussions of entitlement. I do think it gets off the tracks.
We have to dig deeper when we’re talking about research. The research has been mixed. It should be a reflection on what we want our kids to be like, really. Should kids come into class and assume they’re getting an A? I think that’s the line. What you worry about is this sort of sense that some kids might be getting that, ‘I just inherently deserve this. I’m awesome.’
AP: You all wrote of several C words that make a difference.
Rende: Conflict, how do you learn to appropriately deal with conflict. It’s a very important developmental skill. You don’t want to learn to avoid conflict, per se, but if it’s handled the wrong way, you get into, essentially, coercion, where you learn to handle disagreements by just trying to get your way. So, ‘I’m just going to keep arguing with you until you give in.’
And we also have co-operation. You have to learn how to co-operate. You have to really learn it. In the broader, entrepreneurial sense it’s about collaboration. How do you work together well?
And then there’s conversation. It’s important. We talk in the book about how a teacher, Paul Barnwell, says that he thought kids didn’t know how to have basic conversation these days. There’s so much embedded in conversation that’s good for kids