This post is part of our StartupDad Series, in which David Moody — father of a teen entrepreneur and founder of the StartupDad blog — explores the trials, tribulations, joys, and achievements that young entrepreneurs and their friends and family face.
Parents: Have you noticed any of these traits in your teens: Lack of interest in school; A messy room; Drawers and closets littered with a variety of electronic and small engine parts; Spending far more spare time on the computer in his/her room than outside playing or with friends; Staying up too late, doesn’t want to get up in the morning, tired much of the time; Generally mischievous behavior? Also, have you noticed burn marks where it appears a small explosion may have occurred, electricity outages, or parts missing from appliances, lawn equipment and furniture? Do some of your extension cords and tools seem to be missing?
As a parent, these appear to be signs of trouble that require some serious discipline, counseling, juvenile detention or a twelve step program. OR, you could have a young entrepreneur on your hands. Please don’t misunderstand, these could, in fact, be signs of a teen headed for serious trouble. They could also be signs of a restless teenager, bored with the system, who is trying to find an outlet for their creativity, curiosity, and product ideas.
While the signs look pretty similar, the actions parents take in these situations are pretty important. Parents can attempt to shut down this behavior with disciplinary action, let the behavior go after several unsuccessful attempts to stop it, or direct their teen to people and programs that will give them a somewhat structured outlet for their creativity, product development ideas and curiosity. Our son was disassembling his Happy Meals at age 8. Luckily, my wife didn’t make him stop. Turns out he was just trying to figure out how they worked.
Here in central Arkansas, there are a variety of locations and programs where youth can experiment with ideas and develop skills in math, science, electronics, microprocessors, coding, app development, robotics, project management and entrepreneurship. A partial list includes Y.E.S., EAST, Innovation Hub, Art Connection, Noble Impact, STEM Coalition, 100 Girls of Code, First Robotics, Best Robotics, the Arts & Science Center, The Museum of Discovery, and a variety of local after-school programs that may have technology initiatives. There are similar programs in Northwest Arkansas. Many of these programs serve youth outside their region. The EAST program, a project based learning program that teaches kids coding, video production, how to use design and GPS mapping software, and develop websites is already in 200+ schools around our state and in a handful of schools in other states. 100 Girls of Code has had events in a variety of regions. All of these programs are underwritten by grants, public funding and private donors and investors so their cost is free or close to free. Part of my mission is to use communication technology to bring this content to every corner of our state. So many of these programs have sprung up around the country in the past five years that there is likely one near you. Find it and get plugged in.
If you are a parent, or a teen entrepreneur for that matter, who wants access to these programs, use the links in this post to contact these programs. If there isn’t one near you, talk to them about how you can access their services or figure out how you can start a program or club in your area. Be a local Champion! The power of like-minded people coming together to create a community is critical in these endeavors. A local group of parents and teen entrepreneurs makes it easier to carpool to after school activities, purchase project kits, materials and equipment, and discuss potential community projects and product development. Many of these programs started with a parent or group of parents and teen entrepreneurs who decided to start something in their area.
THE TAKEAWAY: As we go through our daily lives, usually at 100 MPH with our hair on fire, it is easy to believe that we are alone in dealing with challenges and we tend to seek remedies that are swift and immediate to alleviate what we perceive to be a problem. This tends to blind us to the resources all around us that can put us on a path of turning a problem situation into a positive outlet for growth and change. While it is certainly possible that some of the traits noted above are, in fact, signs of a serious problem that requires immediate attention and discipline, these signs may also be indicators of a need for a constructive outlet for creative and design skills. As parents it is our job to figure out which one it is and do something about it!