I once went to a seminar for wealthy parents on how not to spoil their children. Not that I have kids but I did have a free ticket. And I’d long been curious as to why people who become “successful” through struggle and striving so often breed underdeveloped loafers.

The seminar lasted all day but I only remember one thing, which may be enough: the main mistake of well-to-do parents is that they make their kid’s lives too easy.

The corollary? If you want children to mature into productive, useful people, they’ll need a sufficient dose of age-appropriate challenges (chores, jobs, projects, experiments, even certain types of play…) throughout their development.

It’s not enough, for example, to let children cruise through life till at 18 you set them up with an internship at your buddy’s investment banking firm.

Kids given this trajectory tend to be uninspiring, uninquisitive, unresourceful people. And is it any wonder? Their life is like a video game that starts them off with the high score. How motivated will they be to play and to keep playing when things get hard? It’s not very rewarding to start off with the reward.

I remember back in my old video-game console days how I might get ahold of a “cheat code” for a game. I was always delighted with the rule-breaking powers it gave my in-game avatar — for about ten minutes. Then the constraint-less game became so boring that I never played it again.

The Prince, by Machiavelli, actually touches on this. The book is a manual for rulers of principalities on how to stay in power. It even has separate chapters depending on how one comes to power, as the advice and prospects vary.

One of the best cases, according to Machiavelli, is if you’ve risen to power from the ranks of a commoner. Having done so, we can pretty much gauge that you’re an exceptional person.

The worst case? If you’ve been put in power by your family. Chances are you’re a wimp, everyone knows it, and someone’s sights are set on you.

So the best way to learn how to manage responsibility, is by earning and assuming responsibility along the way. Nepotism, inheritance, and easy street tend to deprive one of those lessons.

No one wants to raise slugabeds with a sense of entitlement. It doesn’t reflect well on the parents and these lumps gum up the rest of society too. So remember the anti-venom: a continual stream of age-appropriate challenges, no matter how much money you have or how many fancy people you know.


*The other best-case according to Machiavelli, which is too interesting to not mention, is if you’ve come to power via religion. Then you’ve got troops (literally) who will fight more fervently and with greater devotion than any normal soldier, and who will respect you regardless of your accomplishments or abilities by simple virtue of your divinely sanctioned status.