Doers Don’t Watch TV

Young Maker Joey Hudy demonstrates his marshmallow cannon to President Obama. He’s way too busy working on projects like this to watch much TV.

Over the past month, I’ve been interviewing many parents of young “doers” – entrepreneurs, makers, software hackers, and social innovators. Soon, I’ll be writing many articles about what these parents and their children have in common, but one conclusion is so obvious that, frankly, it’s not worthy of a lot of writing or analysis:

Doers don’t watch TV.

I’ve spoken to many parents of Thiel Fellows. These are kids under 20 who entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s foundation have chosen to get $100K over two years to explore starting a business full time rather than go to college. One kid is “working on developing a revolutionary method of DNA synthesis that will accelerate the field of synthetic biology.”. Another kid plans “to bring water, power, shelter, and education to developing communities in one single movement to where it is needed most.” Yeah, you get the idea. These kids are superstar doers.

Also, I’ve interviewed parents of the most famous “Young Makers” from the maker movement. This movement is empowering kids and adults to build fun physical things like robots and clothes with LED lights.

All these kids are passionate, so much so that one might even term them obsessed. They spend hours every day working on their projects. More specifically, they spend those hours making prototypes, researching on the Internet, interacting with others who are doing similar things (in-person or online), and tracking down parts they need.

They’re not couch potatoes. Not for a moment.

“As soon as he came home, he was in the study tinkering, working on his projects. Often, we had a hard time pulling him away for dinner.”

“In the months before MakerFaire, all they did after school was work on the Viper until they went to bed.”

I have more than a dozen more quotes like these.

So, what does this mean for your kid? Sure, these Thiel Fellows and Young Makers are superstars, but they didn’t get there by sitting in front of screens.

They also didn’t get there by going to lots and lots of different structured activities that their parents planned for them.

They also didn’t get there because they went to super-stimulating schools. (I’ll write about how irrelevant their schooling was/is in a future article.)

They got to where they are in part because their parents created a home environment that provided them the opportunity and the freedom to create and do on their own.

The bottom-line question you’re probably asking yourself is, “Am I reducing the chance that my kid could be a ‘doer’ – an entrepreneur, maker, software hacker, or social innovator – by letting him or her have an hour or more of screen time every day?” Unless you think your kid would have very low potential of becoming a dynamic doer, then the answer is “yes.”

I have a lot more to write about this fascinating and enormously important topic of raising doers. Stay tuned…

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