You’ve heard of helicopter, tiger and dolphin parents, but the latest parenting euphemism is a different beast altogether. According to David Fagan, co-author of the upcoming “Guerilla Parenting: How to Raise an Entrepreneur” (due in 2015) his tough love approach to childrearing is the antidote to entitled children. “Right now what I see is parents giving so much to their kids that they’re really just condemning them to a life of mediocrity,” he says, citing the biggest parental offenders as those who have struggled to make it themselves. “They didn’t have it easy, so their version of success for themselves is, ‘I’m going to define my success as an individual by having the ability to give my kids the best of everything…And by parents constantly giving to their kids, and rescuing their kids and not allowing them to fail, they’re really doing them a disservice.”
IS GUERILLA PARENTING FOR ME?
If you’re struggling to make ends meet, or raising a kid with extreme disabilities, you can probably give the Guerilla method a pass. Fagan identifies his audience as parents with discretionary income, those middle and upper class families who shell out for expensive birthday parties, laptops, phones, games and clothes, when they could be teaching their kids to fund the extras themselves.
WAIT A MINUTE, DID YOU SAY ‘FUND THE EXTRAS THEMSELVES’?
Yup. Fagan made headlines recently when he announced that he has no plans to pay for postsecondary education for any of his eight children, despite being a successful businessman himself (the former CEO of Guerilla Marketing, Fagan now owns Icon Builder Media and is a sought-after speaker, trainer and author). Other things he expects his kids to fund with their own earnings include activities with friends, any clothes beyond the basics, movies, camps and sports.
HOW DOES THIS WORK, ANYWAY?
“We really run our family like a business,” says Fagan of the approach he and wife and co-author Jill Fagan, take to parenting. “We don’t have a dinner table, we have a conference room table.” And while he won’t give his kids cash for activities, he will fund their ideas with small business loans if they pitch him with a feasible plan. His kids can also earn money by doing chores “above and beyond” their regular responsibilities. As his older children start earning outside the home, they often pay their younger siblings to take over their chores so they can spend their time on more profitable ventures. Successful businesses range from the simple – upcycling and reselling free items from Craiglist for profit – to the complex – the Hire a Teen virtual assistant company started by his oldest kids. With his younger children, the focus is on fostering independence: when the family visits a restaurant and his two-year daughter wants something, she is expected to order it herself.
IT SOUNDS LIKE GUERILLA PARENTING IS MAINLY ABOUT MAKING MONEY
For the most part, yes. “I hate to say it, but it all comes down to money,” says Fagan. “They say that money can’t buy happiness, but it can come pretty close,” adding that most family break-ups and crimes occur because of financial problems. “I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, I just think that money is a huge thing and the biggest challenge we have as parents is to prepare our kids to make money in multiple ways,” by teaching them to monetize their knowledge and experiences.
WHAT IF MY KIDS AREN’T GOOD ENTREPENEURS?
Humans are multidimensional beings with multiple talents, says Fagan, some of which can be monetized, some not. But he believes that every child has a talent that can be turned to profit. But what if one of his children was determined to be, say, a professional flute player? “If my kid came to me and said, ‘Dad, I’m truly happy playing the flute,’ then I hope that I’d have the ability to show them what that will mean in their life,” adding he would prepare them for the likely reality of a lower-salary lifestyle and all its consequences. “There are a lot of jobs out there that aren’t going to make much money – a school teacher or a police officer. I believe these are very rewarding careers in and of themselves, even though someone’s not going to be rich.”
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF BEING A GUERILLA PARENT?
We noted that it’s hard to raise savvy entrepreneurs if you’re not one yourself, and Fagan’s answer was immediate: buy the book. But for all his unwillingness to spend money on his kids, he spends a lot of time with them, frequently pulling his children out of school to pursue so-called real world education. His kids join him on his speaking tours (once they’ve raised the money to pay their own travel expenses) and participate in internships at his company. In addition to the regular responsibilities of fatherhood, he is constantly available as a business mentor. He also has to deal with teachers and administrators who chastise him for taking his kids out of class. For all its back-to-basics appeal, Guerilla Parenting strikes us as an intense (and very middle class, very American) approach to raising independent children.
DO DAVID FAGAN’S CHILDREN COMPLAIN?
“Of course. My kids are kids, like any other kids. I think there’s a term ‘tough love’, that’s kind of overused and meaningless nowadays, but I really do believe in tough love, and I think the part that gets forgotten is the love. Nothing that I teach – none of this will work if you don’t truly and sincerely love your kids. And not only love them, but show love through verbal and non-verbal ways.” But as much as his kids gripe, he also believes they are happy. “To see a kid light up because they earned a thousand dollars…to see a kid pay for their own way to get on a plane and go someplace that most of their friends have never gone, man it’s a paradigm shift. Something changes right down to their very core, the sense of control and empowerment and control of their own destiny. It’s a feeling that is intoxicating and contagious. They want more – it’s almost addictive, they’re like, ‘Now what am I going to do? Now what can I do? Because apparently I can do anything!’”