In the spirit of using blogging to try out new ideas, I wanted to share some thoughts about the relationship between parenting and entrepreneurship (in the Austrian sense).
As I've argued before, "hyper-parenting" is a real problem among sections of the middle and upper-middle class in the US. These are parents who are so involved in their kids' lives that they don't allow them to fail or develop resilience or perserverence skills. It is the core of the argument that we are raising a "Nation of Wimps."
What many developmental psychologists argue is that the ideal parenting strategy is to raise your kids in ways that make them "feel safe in taking risks." That might seem contradictory, but the idea is that kids need to know that they can take risks by exploring new things or people and that they will both reap the rewards of doing so and bear the costs of doing so, at least short of something catastrophic. The idea of "feeling safe in taking risks" is what true psychological attachment is about, rather than the very mistaken notion of "attachment" that is in vogue with "attachment parenting," which is just another name for the over-involved parenting that is the problem.
Well-attached children feel safe in exploring the world because they know that they can always return to the "secure base" of their parent(s). The psychologist John Bowlby, who invented the concept, used the metaphor of an invisible elastic band that can be stretched further and further as children develop. "Hyper-parenting" replaces the elastic band with handcuffs and prevents children from developing the risk-taking independence that is necessary to navigate the adult world. It destroys the benefits of true attachment by substituting a false version.
It has always seemed to me that well-attached children will be much more able to exercise entrepreneurship than those who have been hyper-parented. They are used to exploring the world and exercising their own judgment, and understand the relationship between risk and reward. And if their parents allow them to fail and to feel the consequences of that failure (again, short of severe injury and the like), they also understand that failure is one of the great motivators for succeeding and for learning. Constantly shielding our kids from taking risks and possibly experiencing failure will be likely to lead to adults who are similarly risk-averse and who cannot understand why failure is a part of learning and growing.
This raises two sets of questions:
1. Is there a relationship between changes in parenting along these lines and our increasing tolerance for bailing out failed companies? Is this part of a broader cultural shift that has at least some of its roots in how children are raised? Do parenting philosophies matter for political economy in this way? Will children raised not understanding that failure has value for personal improvement also not see the social function of losses and economic failure?
2. How important is it to a classical liberal order that children be raised in ways that encourage entrepreneur-like independence? Aside from the more narrow questions of policy, can a liberal order function with risk-averse citizens who are less likely to sieze entrepreneurial opportunities? Is this part of the broader role that the family has in transmitting the rules and values of the Great Society? What, if anything, can we do if parents are failing in that task?
I do not have answers to these questions, but I think they are ones we need to grapple with (and that I will be grappling with in my book).