I talked to 70 parents who raised highly successful kids—here's the No. 1 parenting style they used
Some parents believe in being strict, while others are lenient. Many wonder how to find the right balance.
For my book, "Raising an Entrepreneur," I interviewed 70 parents who raised highly successful adults about how they helped their kids achieve their dreams.
It was an extremely diverse group — of different races, religions, income, family structure and education. But as I talked to each, I discovered a common theme: "respectful parenting."
Respectful parenting, sometimes called "wise parenting," involves setting standards and strict rules (e.g., only spending money you earn) while also being respectful of kids' choices (e.g., letting them choose their own after school activities).
What is respectful parenting?
When I tell people about the benefits of respectful parenting, they find it surprising and counterintuitive.
Why would any parent let a young child make their own choices? It's much easier to step in before your kid does something that sounds like a bad idea, like wearing a Halloween costume to school in January or taking apart a radio.
But respectful parents value individuality and don't try to dictate what their kids are curious about or how they express themselves.
Unlike popular parenting styles such as "permissive," which overindulges children to avoid conflict, or "authoritarian," where communication is one-way with little consideration of a child's emotional needs, respectful parenting is about seeing children as independent, rational beings.
In her book "Grit," renowned psychologist Angela Duckworth agrees that this is the best way to raise kids.
"[Respectful parents] are accurate judges children's psychological needs. They appreciate that children need love, limits and latitude to reach their full potential," she writes. "Their authority is based on knowledge and wisdom, rather than power."
The 3 pillars of respectful parenting
- Let kids make their own choices, as long as expectations are met.
- Guide them through how things can be done better.
- Expect them to do things, even when it's hard.
Thomas Vu grew up with strict rules and lots of structure, but his parents gave him complete freedom to pursue his goals.
"I was expected to get straight A’s. It wasn't easy, but as long as I did, my mom let me play all the video games I wanted. In my book, that was a fair trade," he told me.
Vu was one quarter from graduating from college with a degree in bioengineering when he got an opportunity to intern at Electronic Arts, a leading video game maker.
His parents weren’t thrilled, but they let him drop out and pursue his dream of creating video games. He later became the lead producer at Riot Games for League of Legends, which today has 180 million players.
- Give kids the right to their own point of view.
- Respect their privacy.
- Don't make constant corrections in their actions or speech.
D.A. Wallach is a successful tech investor. One of his early investments was Spotify, where he was Artist-in-Residence.
When Wallach was eight years old, he became interested in investing, so his mom gave him some money and opened an account for him. He spent hours researching companies. His mom gave her opinions, but he got to decide where to invest.
Wallach lost most of the money within six years, but his mom told him that losing was part of the learning process.
Not everyone can afford to give their kid money to learn about investing. But Wallach's mom nurtured his talents in other ways that didn't cost money: analyzing, discussing and debating choices with him, treating him like a grown-up, and not agonizing over failure.
- Let kids know they can turn to you for help.
- Spend quality time with them.
- Engage in compassionate activities together.
Breegan Jane is an interior designer and host on HGTV's "Extreme Makeover." She's also a philanthropist and serves on the board of Single Moms Planet.
Her parents taught her about compassion and showed her how to handle adversity with resilience and creativity.
"I was 11 years old when we first went to help others with mission work. We gave clothing to people in a Mexico town where clean water wasn't abundant," she told me. "I was shocked by the poverty."
Now that Breegan is a mom, she appreciates the importance of teaching kids to give back. She and her two sons volunteer frequently together at food assistance programs.
"I realize now that most parents don't expose their kids to sad truths, but mine did it by surrounding the pain in so much hope," she said. "They always focused on all the good we could do and bring to others."
Margot Machol Bisnow is a writer, mom and parenting expert. She spent 20 years in government, including as an FTC Commissioner and Chief of Staff of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, and is the author of "Raising an Entrepreneur: How to Help Your Children Achieve Their Dreams." Follow her on Instagram @margotbisnow.
- I talked to 70 parents who raised highly successful adults—here are 4 things they never did when their kids were young
- A psychologist says these 7 skills separate successful kids from ‘the ones who struggle’—and how parents can teach them
- I raised 2 successful CEOs and a doctor. Here’s the ‘unpopular’ parenting rule I always used on my kids