I have a 12-year old son. I don't live with his mother, but I try to do as much as possible to help him grow up a happy and healthy adult.

Couple of months ago I learned he had problems with maths and started to investigate what the cause may be. Among other things, I asked him what cool stuff they did at school during the last 30 days. He couldn't answer.

Then I asked him, what cool stuff he would like to do, if it was possible.

The answer was "something related to programming".

Thereafter we (me and his mother) made him the following offer: If he manages to earn enough money with a legal, ethical job, me and his mother won't bother him with grades ("enough" means "enough to survive in his region in a place separate from his mom's").

He said he'd like to learn everything it takes to make money with programming, but he doesn't want to give up on school.

Then I started to teach him programming (I'm a software developer myself). First couple of lessons were about the ways he can make a living programming (employment, freelancing, own company). We have been learning to program via Skype since then. Large part of the sessions runs like this: I explain a particular FreeCodeCamp lesson to him (both of us look at the same text), then he tries to do the exercise. I help him, if he has difficulties.

At other times I'm just talking with him, usually discussing some article I found on the Internet and which I consider useful for him.

My impression is that he does less than he could. Sometimes he does an exercise in less than five minutes, but doesn't want to do the next one. Also, right now he doesn't seem to do them in his leisure time.

I tried several motivation hacks. I sent him the "Pirates of the Silicon Valley" movie. I explained to him the principle of conditioning (the stuff with the Pavlovian dog) -- when he rewards himself by eating a small, sugar-free candy after every completed exercise, it's easier to keep going.

There is a big gun I could use: I'm also constantly testing business ideas (mostly tech-related) and could tell him, how I do it myself. Up to now I never told him about this because most of my ideas were bad (didn't pass the validation phase). There are pros and cons.

Benefits of telling the child about how I test my business ideas

  • He will learn, how to test ideas on low budget (i. e. in a safe way, without taking unreasonable risks).
  • He will see, what lean methodology looks in practice.
  • He may get motivated -- sometimes you can change a person's behavior by doing what you are preaching yourself. If he looks at me testing ideas, he may some day do the same himself.
  • He may learn, how to learn from feedback (the art and science of hypothesis testing).
  • He may learn, how to find out things that nobody can tell you (scientific method). When you have a new product, no authority on Earth can tell you whether or not it will be useful to somebody.
  • If a particular idea fails, he will see, how I get up and move on (pivot) to the next one (i. e. that failure does not need to destroy a person).
  • He could learn the economic common sense that most people lack and which you can acquire only by doing a lot of business planning (incl. basics of accounting). This common sense is useful regardless of whether or not a person wants to start a business. Acquired common sense like "you can't spend more than you earn indefinitely" allows you, among other things, to stay out of numerous traps that financial institutions put in front of you (e. g. "fast and easy" consumer credits; a big problem in the region where he lives).
  • In the ideal case, he will learn, how to build a company that is tailored to his personality.
  • Potentially, a better emotional bond. Building a business is the second most important thing in my life (first being the child). If I show him that big part, it could lead to a deeper and better connection between us.
  • I could argue that even if I continue to fail at business, it's better than not trying it. This activity keeps me alive and prevents me from drinking alcohol, starting unhealthy relationships, and making other suboptimal choices. There are women worth chasing even with zero chance of having a relationship with them (by "chasing" I mean primarily improving oneself to become worthier of her). I could argue that the same applies to my business-building activities.


My biggest concern is that he sees me trying and failing, he could make the wrong conclusion that he shouldn't even attempt entrepreneurship. A German business book says that many children of failed entrepreneurs are so traumatized that they don't even consider starting a business themselves.

All my ideas failed so far, but he didn't suffer because of those losses (I lost time and some non-catastrophic amounts of money).

Should I show and tell my son, how I'm trying to build the company of my dreams

  • here and now, or
  • do it when and if I've made my first billion?

Are there any other risks I'm not aware of?

6 Answers 6


It seems you're only a little bit conflicted about your failures in programming, as you're reluctant to share them. But what a gift it is to your son to show that most people who take chances initially fail more often than they succeed!

Is failure a positive opportunity to learn and grow, or is it a negative experience that hinders success? How parents answer that question has a big influence on how much children think they can improve their intelligence through hard work, a study says.

You're showing a lot of flexibility in allowing your child to "fail" at school. I'm not saying I agree with what you're doing, but that what you're doing is teaching your child a positive mindset concerning failure. However, how you respond to your son's problems in math may also be sending him a negative message about his abilities in general.

Parents need to represent this to their kids in the ways they react about their kids' failures and setbacks...[parents] need to really think about what's visible to the other person, what message [the parent is] sending in terms of [their] words and [their] deeds.

Parents who teach their children that failure is an opportunity to improve by examining what went wrong (e.g. on the math test) are teaching a positive mindset about failure. If you can encourage this mindset in programming, you can convince your son that it's not about innate intelligence, but about a work ethic and reflection (i.e. components of resilience.)

A German business book says that many children of failed entrepreneurs are so traumatized that they don't even consider starting a business themselves.

I haven't read the book, but I imagine there's a lot more to that story than that simple take-away. Failures are not black or white, they are many shades. You may not be a billionaire yet, but you're making enough to survive and support a family, and you're still trying. I can't see how that's discouraging or damaging to your son at all.

He may not share the same mindset as you have, nor is he guaranteed to adopt your conclusions about the method, but it's hard to imagine any downsides to teaching him the lessons you have to offer. The only thing I would add is that the same lessons apply to different subjects/studies.

How To Teach Children That Failure Is The Secret To Success
Parents’ Views of Failure Predict Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mind-Sets


Teach him how to code BUT do not get "tolerant" on bad grades.

I self-educated myself as a programmer only to find out, after leading my startup to a successful acquisition, that sometimes in life you need to have a title and be used to interact with formally educated people to be able to go where you want to be.

That's why I'm now back to college to finish it. And when you are 10 years past high school it gets a little harder...


The short version: of course you should let your son see your failures and how you deal with them - if you have good, healthy ways of dealing with them, which it sounds like you do. Failure is scary, and learning to take responsibility for failures and move on and try again is very hard (maybe one of the hardest things). Showing your children your failures and how you (successfully) cope with them is one of the best gifts you can give as a parent.

A couple of other thoughts: 1) yes, specifically in relation to your failed ideas I think it would be important to share those too, but for a different reason: often when we're kids we think that a new and novel idea has to be earth shatteringly transformational to be worthy of notice, and so kids often won't bother voicing an idea for something small, at least not seriously. They think their idea has to be for something like independent human flight, or teleportation, or invisibility, and they don't realize that something as simple as a squishy mat for standing in front of the kitchen sink could be revolutionary. Showing how ideas come up in response to a need (rather than in a vacuum) and that they sometimes initially appear insignificant will help your son be able to recognize potential ideas when he has them.

2) have you asked your son specifically what he wants to do with programming? I ask this because all of the middle school aged boys (11-14 yrs old) that I know/have known are interested in one of two things when it comes to computers: making games, or graphic design. They either want to be able to make games like the ones they enjoy playing, or they want to be able to make animated movies like the ones they enjoy watching. I ask this because it sounds like your son is somewhat unmotivated to participate in the programming curriculum you've been doing with him, which is surprising given that the idea came from him. Usually a lack of motivation is due to a person not seeing the activity as "mine," but rather as externally imposed. So it might be worthwhile to get a handle on what your son imagined he might be doing when he initially said he wanted to do programming.

I hope that helps!


I have a son that is very self deprecating at his own failures. I have taken to having him learn about the failures of famously successful people and found it helps. If you are concerned that he may misinterpret your failings, then perhaps teach him about failing on a broader scope. In order to succeed, you have to be willing to fail a lot. That is the reality of being self made. Most people that have risen above, know very well what it's like to scrape the bottom. My husband & I have twice now lost everything we had taking chances & are now back up to where we were before. I don't hide that from my children. I find that I am proud that we have just been willing to fight our way through it.

I am not sure how much your son likes or know of Harry Potter, but I know my son was very inspired by the story of J.K. Rowling the author & how poor she was at the time that she got her break on that first Harry Potter book.

And for whatever usefulness it may be, I can offer how I handle math with my kids as so far neither of my children that are schooling like it. I homeschool them, so I have options in how I teach it. I focus on finding things they might enjoy & teach them through that. So we use a lot of real world examples of math application, such as in cooking, sewing (we draft our own patterns, etc), building, banking, etc. I find that when I show them how the math applies to life & what use it is to them, they are more interested in the lessons on the whole. I would think that a lot of this can be done after school with kids that are in standard classes though, looking at what they are working on in math now & showing them how that math applies to life skills. As a child I too was very bored if I was learning something I didn't think was likely to be useful or that I couldn't frame it in my head how I might use it.


There's already a lot of good answers here, so I'll keep this brief (I lied about brief!).

This response is more about how to minimize the chances of failure and give him the chance to explore (and yourself to succeed) rather than whether he should see you how fail.

Business Startup

Programming is the easy part of being and entrepreneur in IT services.

I joined a startup company a few years back, and through it I am learning the skills of entrepeneurship. Building a team building a customer list, promoting your business is much harder and more time consuming than programming, but is the most important part of the process.

To help him get his feet wet, you might start by helping him to look for entry level work on freelancer sites. You handle the business side of it, and he works as a 1099 contractor with your assistance where needed.

A lot of companies start their look for long-term people on those sites. A common strategy is to put out a small fixed cost project and award it to the three top contenders, then hire the one who did the best work for the next job.

If he fails epically, you finish the job for him so there is no breach of contract and put it to rest until he's a little more motivated (or you're ready to strike out on your own).

On the other hand, if he thrives and you're able to keep him busy, you can start to apply you share of the cash towards building the business. There will come a point where you need to expand your presence.

The good news is that while 80% of new startups fail, 80% of second tries succeed. If you're serious about entrepeneurship, I recommend having two years living expenses in liquid savings over the initial cost of your startup before you give up any regular income you might have. Success comes over a period of years, not days.

I strongly recommend Dave Ramsey's book "Entreleadership", (link: https://www.daveramsey.com/store/books/entreleadership-20-years-of-practical-business-wisdom-from-the-trenches/prodentre.html) . Mr. Ramsey started his business while he was still recovering from bankruptcy. The book encapsulates his story and lessons about growing a company that he learned the hard way.

Good luck!

Teens in technical work

I lead a live webcast crew composed of volunteers. The oldest technician on my team is 17, and the youngest is 11. I would put my crew up against almost any professional crew given the same equipment and know they could hold their own proudly.

If he has an honest interest in the work, you will be able to pressure and coach him and he will rise to the challenge. You do need to watch that balance, though.


There's a lot of specifics in this question which I won't get into because they'll certainly shift half-way through their application with your son. However, there's one phrasing which jumped to me immediately.

Do not just let him see you fail. Let him see how you fail.

Your question title has the word "how" in it, which is a good sign to me. If all your son can see is you failing a bunch of times, then he's going to learn that his dad is a deadbeat who can't do anything right. However, if your son can see how you fail, then you can teach him a very important life lesson about how to let yourself fail in one tiny facet of life while not failing at life as a whole. That's an important lesson because 110% of people will fail at some point in their life (and I say 110% rather than 100% because I fail at math, so I might as well emphasize a point with it!).

Now the real question you should ask yourself is "do I want to teach someone how to fail like I do?" Are you happy with your particular failure modes? A failure always involves severing connections with the failed part, like a gardener pruning weak branches away so the strong ones have more nutrients. Do you like your approach to this process? When you start a new venture, does the prospect of failing terrify you? Or does the unknown thrill you? Do you cut your losses early? Do you let the failures take you down? Or do you find that beautiful fine line where you and your venture part ways?

If you can find beauty in how you fail, you've achieved the first step towards teaching someone how to fail. The next step can be harder:

Make sure he is ready to see how you fail, not just that you fail.

While he's seeing this reality where everyone fails, make sure he's able to see the part of you that isn't failing. Make sure he knows that part loves him. Make sure he believes that part is the part of you that really truly matters. He's your son. You know him best. Watch how he behaves. Figure out whether he's just seeing you fail, or if he's seeing how you do it. If he's seeing how you fail, he's seeing the part of you that isn't failing.

Succeed at that, and you'll not be teaching him how to fail. You'll be teaching him how to succeed.

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