I genuinely believe in the power of business to incite social change and alleviate poverty, although, in some circles, that may be an unpopular opinion. I have mad respect for entrepreneurs who have started something from the ground up and built a business, company culture and a community around a single idea. That said, as I’ve been scrolling through the many business/entrepreneurship Instagram channels that I follow, I have noticed an increasingly disturbing trend – child entrepreneurs.
Lily Born founded the Kangaroo Cup, a three-legged cup designed for those suffering from Parkinson’s, in order to reduce liquid spillages. Robert Nay created Bubble Ball, part of his larger company Nay Games, which surpassed Angry Birds in downloads. Moziah Bridges started Mo’s Bows, a bow-tie business, which led him to strike a partnership deal with the NBA.
The common thread between all three? They were all under sixteen years old when they founded their respective businesses.
It is easy, if not natural, to look at these young minds and their innovative ideas, and be inspired by them. We definitely should be inspired. These kids deserve credit for noticing a problem, working hard to find a solution to it, and being dedicated to their idea. They represent the consumable narrative that success has no age, and that hard work and passion will get you anywhere.
But this is just one of the many narratives that capitalism conveys in order to keep the system running the way that it runs.
Let’s tangibly think about a child under the age of ten, what is the likelihood that they are doing the day-to-day running of the business like producing the products, keeping the books, managing orders? You guessed it – close to none. Most, if not all, of well-known child entrepreneurs, have gone “into business” with either a parent or a family member. These “child entrepreneurs” are essentially marketing gimmicks for parents puppeteering from above, knowing full well that it is probably illegal for their child to be engaging in any kind of real work. This marketing ploy seems almost like a twisted, neoliberal form of child labor.
Entrepreneurship and start-up cultures are largely focused on funding. Once an idea is solidified, and a market offering is built around it, the long process of securing a source of finance begins. This process is not only grueling but super competitive, with multiple rounds and hundreds of start-ups competing for the same pool of money.
What does it say to a child psychologically when their reward system becomes focused on money? The simple equation for a child is that money equals business growth and further promotion of themselves as brands, which equals to even more money.
These child entrepreneurs are being celebrated for their ability to partake in the capitalist system, and so it is being ingrained in their growth and development that financial wealth and a competitive spirit will get you ahead. In then using these children as examples for other children, we are continuing to spread this unhealthy narrative, pitting children against one another in a bid to become the best of the best.
In disseminating such messages, and putting these overachieving children (or rather their parents) on a pedestal, we are impeding well-rounded growth that acknowledges the value of failure, emotional wellbeing, and health. We are celebrating overachieving at the expense of achieving, and at the expense of just being children.
It is one thing to celebrate and reward a bright child, and an entirely different thing to turn that brightness into a profit-making machine. Parents engaging in this postmodern style of parenting need to take a step back and think about the human they are creating amidst all the funding rounds, publicity shoots and idea generation sessions. It’s the ultimate definition of a Momager / Papager which always seems great in the beginning, having your parent guide you, but in hindsight can be super damaging.