Charles Koch is a multi-billionaire. Charles and his brother David took over their father’s business and transformed it into the largest privately held company in the world. He was recently asked in a Time Magazine interview about what he attributes his enormous success in life to. Charles responded that if it were not for his parents he would have been a menace and a burden on society. He was a bad egg growing up and his parents decided tough love was the only solution. From a very early age his father put him to work at the family business. He was forced to do the most unpleasant jobs his father could find. And he was forced to work long hours, when most kids his age were out playing or climbing trees. Having his son by his side enabled his father to mentor him and pass along to him the work ethic habit. There was no escape for Charles Koch. He was forced to become a hard worker.
Dr. Ben Carson, famed neurosurgeon and Presidential candidate, was raised in the ghettos of Detroit in a single-parent household. His mother cleaned the houses of wealthy people and noticed that they didn’t allow their kids to watch TV and, instead, required them to read. Mrs. Carson decided to emulate that in her household and forced her two young boys to go to the public library every day after school and read until it was time for dinner. They also had to write a weekly summary of what they learned from their reading and give it to their mom to read. She would read the summaries and occasionally make notations on it and then hand it back to her kids. There was no escaping this weekly chore for Dr. Carson. He was forced to become a reader.
I highlight these two individuals because one was raised in a wealthy household and one in a poor household. These two individual are proof that your financial circumstances growing up, at least in America, do not dictate your financial circumstances as an adult. What does dictate your financial circumstances as an adult is parenting. Parents who raise their kids with good habits and then hold their kids accountable for sticking to those good habits will see their children grow up to become successful adults. Unfortunately, close to 60% of parents (poverty level and near poverty level percentage in America) are invisible parents. They are not actively mentoring their kids for success in life. Instead, they passively raise their children, shifting the onus onto teachers to teach their children everything they need to know to make it in the real world. But teachers can only do so much without the support of parents. Parents need to step up to the plate and actively mentor their kids by teaching them certain habits and then ensuring that those habits stick. It’s up to the parents to provide the tools to succeed in life, not teachers. This pass the buck mentality of invisible parents is an epidemic that’s growing, particularly in the inner cities. Poverty in America is the byproduct of invisible parenting.
I do a lot of speaking at high schools in New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area on the habits that will set you up for success in life (Rich Habits) and the habits that will hold you back in life (Poor Habits). What I’ve found in my research is that most of the invisible parents failed in the following four core areas:
- Too Much TV: 77% of the poor admitted to watching more than one hour of TV each day and their preference? Reality TV wins hands down. 78% of the poor watched reality TV shows like the Kardasians, America’s Next Model, Growing up Gotti, Celebrity Rehab, etc. According to research conducted by eMarketer, the average adult spends 4 1/2 hours each day watching TV. Until Dr. Carson’s mother intervened, her two boys were wasting their time watching TV just like everyone else and struggling with poor grades in school. Mrs. Carson not only cut TV watching down to one hour a day, she picked the TV programs Dr. Carson and his brother could watch. That’s active parenting.
- Too Little Work Ethic: According to the Census 60% of poor households have no one working at all. How can a parent teach their kids work ethic when they don’t work? You can blame society, the economy, the government or anyone else for not finding work, but the reality is that those who are raised with a strong work ethic are never out of a job. They find something to do to earn a living. No job is beneath them. 55% of the self-made millionaires in my study said their parents made them work ten or more hours every week from an early age. Seventy percent said their parents made them volunteer ten or more hours a month. Work and volunteering teaches kids work ethic. Charles Koch, as a child, was working far more than ten hours a week at his father’s business. He learned the hard work Rich Habit. And he couldn’t escape it even if he wanted to. His father was on top of him. That’s active parenting.
- No Reading: 98% of the poor in my study simply did not read. How could they when they were watching so much TV? And now with Facebook, Snapchat and YouTube, things are just getting worse. When Dr. Carson’s mother forced them to change their habits by limiting how much TV they watched and making them read every day, she literally transformed her kids from poor students to straight A students. Plus Dr. Carson said that, because he hated being forced to read, he decided he would find things he liked to read. That’s when he started reading biographies about successful people. He was shocked to learn that most millionaires were self-made and a significant number came from poor upbringings. The light bulb went off in his head – if they can do it so can I. Mrs. Carson forced her kids to read and made them write weekly summaries of what they learned. That’s active parenting.
- Negative Thinking: 90% of the poor in my study believed they would be poor. They chalked it up to fate. When you are raised in a household that believes poverty is inevitable, your children will adopt that poor thinking habit. It becomes a belief that holds them back in life. Instead of instilling in kids the notion that you have control over your circumstances in life, too many poor parents play the victim card. They blame everyone but themselves for their circumstances. Their kids grow up feeling like victims and blaming society. They feel they are entitled to assistance. Mrs. Carson looked down on welfare. She chose to work cleaning homes. On a daily basis she instilled in her two boys the idea that they were smart and special and she set high expectations for them.That’s active parenting.
The reality is that the vast majority of poor people in America are poor because they were raised by invisible parents – parents who do not teach their children good habits and make sure they live those good habits every day. You can make the case that it’s due to bad education. But with the Internet, that case is much harder to make. There is so much information now available on the Internet, so much knowledge just waiting to be learned, that it’s no longer an acceptable excuse. You can learn to read on the Internet. You can learn calculus on the Internet. You can learn a foreign language on the Internet. You can download free podcasts on just about any topic. You can find blogs writing about every conceivable thing. Limit TV, make your kids work and volunteer at an early age, make reading a daily routine and instill in your kids the idea that they can succeed in life. That’s active parenting.