A Mother’s Tips: How to Raise a Thiel Fellow

Editor’s Note: Silicon Valley visionary Peter Thiel was one of the first investors in Facebook and has backed many of today’s hottest tech companies. Today, Thiel offers budding entrepreneurs the chance to win a $100,000 fellowship, if only they drop out of college. In 2011, Dale Stephens was one of 20 individuals to win the first Thiel Fellowship. His mother, Lisa Nalbone, shares childrearing advice.

Thiel Fellow Dale Stephens
Photo: Tyler Driscoll
Thiel Fellow Dale Stephens

Here are 20 tips on how to raise a Thiel fellow, based on my experience of raising Dale J. Stephens, Thiel Fellow and founder of "UnCollege.”

1. Be a gate opener, not a gatekeeper. Give and allow access to information and to the world.

2. Prepare for lots of discussion. Nothing is really off-limits.

3. Accept analysis: always thinking, talking about how to make things better and finding better ways to do things — more cost effectively, more efficiently and just differently.

4. Discuss and stay engaged in news and politics and think about issues like hunger, housing, equality, justice and education — and how they could lead to change if [insert child’s incredible idea here] came into play. Discuss, do not pontificate.

5. Welcome participation in just about everything from very early on. (Note: This can be difficult for control freaks raised by control freaks of an earlier generation!)

6. Sleep less, question more and answer more questions.

7. Go against the grain.

8. Be ready to explain and defend both yourself and your kid, diplomatically and repeatedly.

9. Be thick-skinned.

10. Drive! Drive and wait — a lot.

11. Put time and attention into getting the young visionary where and what they need before your own parental wants. Help them differentiate between needs and wants.

12. Wait before you speak, don’t squelch. Challenge your own assumptions.

13. Ask lots of questions and research, research, research. Why? How? Who? Where?

14. Allow for creativity and the possibility that your kid is smarter than you. Or maybe not smarter, but less fearful and more energetic.

15. Forget control. Embrace openness, serendipity and technology. Be flexible, non-authoritarian, confident and trusting of your child.


16. Assist, do not try to take over.

17. Be happy and excited — not hurt — when your child goes far beyond you. Make new connections — new friends for mentoring, growth and support for you and your child.

18. Teach them to cook, clean, manage money, do laundry and garden. Even visionaries need to know how to take care of themselves.

19. Shower them with empathy and unconditional love.

20. Help them feel empathy and harbor it toward others, so they can see the world through others eyes as well as their own.

—Lisa Nalbone is mother of Dale Stephens, a 2011 Thiel Fellow

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