The Worst Parenting Advice You Can Give Your Kids?

I’ve loved nearly every minute of the challenge of building TaxCoach. We started out as one of those ideas-at-a-lunch that Keith and I shared, and over the last 11 (11!) years, grew into a bona fide business and genuine national community. We’ve changed businesses, changed lives, and made friends all across the country.

Having said that, I’ve loved even more of the even greater challenge of raising three bright beautiful kids. I love them all: my 19-year-old daughter, who’s looking for a summer internship as a Nazi hunter (she says she needs to get cracking, before the Nazis are all dead); my 15-year-old daughter, who’s published two novels; and my 10-year-old son, who gets excited to earn his own money to pay for new videogames.

We all know how important it is to guide our kids through the minefield of growing up. We give them advice every day – and if we’re lucky, they actually listen to it! (Does that remind you of clients at all?)

Some of the advice we give them is obvious. Make your bed every morning. (You’ll start your day with a sense of accomplishment, and mom won’t have to look at the mess). Brush your teeth twice daily. (You’ll have healthier teeth and fresher breath, which will pay dividends when you discover romance.) Eat your vegetables before dessert. (I’m not sure if that’s actually good advice, but it sure got drilled into my head.)

But some of the advice we give our kids, as well-intentioned as it may be now, can backfire on them when they’re older. I’m talking, of course, about the same advice that Australian heartthrob Rick Springfield gave in his 1982 smash hit, “Don’t Talk to Strangers.”

“Don’t talk to strangers” makes sense when your kids are eight years old and they want to cross the street by themselves for the first time. “Stranger danger” is real, and kids need to learn to be careful out in the world.

But not everyone is a threat. Not every stranger represents danger. Kids need to develop the radar to tell the difference between foes and potential friends. I think most of us would agree, that second group is vastly larger than the first.

And someday, when your kids are trying to build their own business, they’re going to need to talk to strangers. In fact, the better they are at talking to strangers, the more they’re going to succeed!

This may sound like a stretch, but hear me out. Teaching children, “Don’t talk to strangers,” makes perfect sense when they’re young. But did you ever wonder what lesson might remains when they’re old enough to go to the bathroom on their own? I realize childhood advice can’t be responsible for personality types. But still… it’s hard to shake those sorts of messages that get repeatedly drilled into our heads at such a young age. Hearing “Don’t talk to strangers” (the advice, not the song) over and over really can make it harder to interact with new people as adults!

People around you really can tell when you’re comfortable meeting them and when you’re not. Prospects can literally smell fear when you quote them a fee!

I met yesterday with a woman who frequently speaks to groups of accountants about her firm’s services. She said that when she delivers a presentation, she can tell within five minutes who the rainmakers are and who would rather be hunched over a computer in their cubicle, bathed in the harsh glow of overhead fluorescent lights. You can be sure the paper-pushers heard, “Don’t talk to strangers,” way more often than the rainmakers did while growing up.

We don’t all have to be glad-handers. I love talking to strangers and I make it a point to do it all the time. I’ll talk to people I pass on the street and people I stand in line with just to exercise that particular muscle. Lisa is just as friendly as I am, although she doesn’t actually work quite so hard to be gregarious. And Keith is equally friendly – you’d never know that it’s more of an effort for him to reach out than it is for Lisa and me. We’re each perfectly comfortable in our own skin, and together, our personalities dovetail just right to run our business.

A decade before anyone ever heard of Rick Springfield, the folk-rock supergroup (and unregulated pharmaceutical enthusiasts) Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young hit #16 on the Billboard chart with “Teach Your Children.” Graham Nash, who wrote the song back when he was with the Hollies, has said that it was inspired by a famous Diane Arbus photograph of an angry-looking child holding a toy grenade. The image prompted Nash to contemplate the messages society was giving its children about war and other issues.

I’m not saying, “Don’t talk to strangers,” rises to quite that level. And you can feel quite free to disregard my parenting advice, tongue-in-cheek as I hope you realize it is. But it’s worth reflecting, next time you prepare to talk with a stranger, what lessons are you carrying deep in your own mind?

Does the thought of speaking to someone new fill you with possibility?

Or does it fill you with dread?

Could the lessons from your childhood be handicapping your efforts to build your very-adult business? And if so, how can you overcome them to reach the success you’re working so hard to achieve?