When I was nine years old, I spent my summer playing with firecrackers. Two summers later, my friends and I were stealing supplies from local construction sites to build tree forts in the woods. (Editor's Note: Baseball great Willie Mays would be so disappointed.) By the time I was 13, my summer break entailed more mature forms of mischief that can't be shared here.
My antics may sound alarming, but I'd argue that all this tomfoolery was more innocent--and more recognizably kid-like--than the summer camp program outlined in a "Youth Startup" flyer that's currently being distributed to Silicon Valley parents and children.
If I'm interpreting the flyer correctly, the camp's goals are to prepare children ages 9 through 13 for the unique challenges of life as a start-up bro or broette. Dig the sales pitch to kids and parents (and you can click the image below to see for yourself):
"Learn project management basics & build the prototype" ... "Learn to read' media messages" ... "Create marketing posters, press release, website, etc" ... "Make a mini business plan to present to investors/instructors" ... "Get funds & manufacture/build your product" ... "Set up a booth and sell at the final day's Trade Show" ... "Calculate your profit and win awards."
Is Sam Biddle's head rocketing off his shoulders like an apoplectic champagne cork right now? It should be. Because in Silicon Valley, kids cannot be left alone to be kids. They must enter training at an early age to become high-tech entrepreneurs. Because, daddy, I really, really, really want to be acquired by Google, too.
And the curriculum is supposed to be "fun"? I think we need to ask anyone who worked the floor of CES 2014 whether setting up the booth was "fun."
Who knows, maybe it's too easy for me to throw stones at a program like Youth Startup, because I don't have kids, and don't have to worry about any offspring starting brush fires, or getting busted for plywood theft, or experimenting with malt liquor eight years shy of California's legal drinking age. (Oops. That secret didn't last long.)
But as one Silicon Valley parent told me upon seeing the flyer, "I just want my children finger painting. This represents everything that's wrong about the Valley."
Emerging conventional wisdom suggests helicopter parents are robbing kids of essential rites of passage--i.e.,quasi-dangerous play that can teach important life lessons, and promote independence. If you're even remotely interested in this topic, you must read a March article in The Atlantic titled "The Overprotected Kid." It will make you ponder what's really a danger to growing minds: Starting a fire in a tin drum (a key scene in the Atlantic article) or play-launching your first Silicon Valley start-up before you turn 14.