In 2019, kids are big in business. From fictional movies to real life news stories, today’s kids are more and more being presented as capable business owners, leaders and moguls – as ‘kidpreneurs’.
The number of self-employed young people in the UK has doubled since 2001 and school subjects like business studies are surging in popularity. This combined with a number of popular teen and kids shows focusing on young people running successful businesses suggests that there is an interesting cultural shift occurring around the perceptions of young people today – a change fueled by the new tools and platforms that have become embedded in young peoples’ lives.
So what are these Kidpreneurs (or ‘Kidtrepreneurs’ – there are a few spellings floating around)? And what does their prominence say about the modern media landscape?
What is a Kidpreneur?
Kidpreneurs – if you didn’t get it immediately, a portmanteau of ‘kids’ and ‘entrepreneurs’ – are young people who are starting businesses, gaining online followers, and leading movements in spaces traditionally dominated almost exclusively by adults.
Modern children are watching YouTube moguls and leaders of global movements emerge and prosper in their own school years: Marsai Martin, is one example – a 14 year old who produced and starred in the movie Little (in an Inception-worthy twist, Marsai also plays a kidpreneur in the film, albeit an adult businesswoman stuck in a child’s body). Other notable kidpreneurs include 16 year olds Greta Thunberg, who is leading a global environmental campaign, and Jo Jo Siwa, who has developed a million dollar personal brand.
Furthermore, shows like Shark Tank and The Ellen Show in the US are increasingly profiling and celebrating kids’ inventions and business ideas: one 12 year old Shark Tank hopeful recently received $80,000 investment in their Lego glue invention. As we’ve written about before, kids’ inventions are also being used to make their play experiences more inclusive and enjoyable.
The figure of the ‘kidpreneur’ is also present throughout popular youth media.
Kidpreneurs feature in popular shows like Game Shakers on Nickelodeon, and both Coop and Cami and Bizaardvark on Disney – shows which follow kids making their fortunes in the media and tech spheres. From an even younger age kids are presented as inventors in The Dengineers on CBBC and Bitz and Bob on CBeebies.
Of course these figures – both real and fictional – have been somewhat present in popular culture for decades (Doogie Howser MD, anyone?). But there is a real feeling among the kids and brands we work with on a daily basis that the increased presence of young people in traditionally adult spaces feels distinctly new and contemporary.
Indeed, ‘Kidpreneurism’ – as a concept – is a relatively new phenomenon. The phrase ‘kidtrepreneur’ only entering the worldwide lexicon in 2012.
Growing beyond the lemonade stand
In Sociological cultural studies, the Kidpreneur would be labeled a cultural figure.
Cultural figures are entities that embody a broader social movement: for example, the hipster is cultural figure that epitomises the broader trends of sustainability, authenticity, and individualism that have emerged over the last decade or so.
In a similar vein, it feels that the kidpreneur speaks to the new media landscape with which young people engage on a daily basis: a landscape with few gatekeepers and almost universal access.
For instance, online platforms like YouTube and TikTok have now removed the barriers that existed within traditional media and today’s young people can now create their own content, gather millions of followers and develop million pound businesses. Kids see endless possibility in modern media platforms, and I think this has had a tangible impact on today’s kids: in a recent survey 75% of kids wanted to become a Youtuber or Blogger.
At the same time, e-commerce platforms like eBay and Depop (a brand we’ve written about previously) have opened up spaces for young people to make their fortunes online. On the back of this, kids are actively being encouraged to develop their own brands and businesses: there are now camps training kids in business skills, as well as a multitude of books, articles and blogs encouraging parents to harness their kids’ creativity and entrepreneurial spirits.
This latter point, however, indicates a darker side of the kidpreneur movement.
The darker side of the kidpreneur movement
Of course, encouraging kids to get involved in and run their own businesses is incredibly empowering, and one cannot (and should not) argue that media brands displaying content that showcases these figures is not constructive.
Yet it is also worth pointing out that the rise of the kidpreneur has come hand-in-hand with an increased potential for exploitation. Over the past few years, there have been many stories of kids being taken advantage of by parents who are too forceful in encouraging kids to create, edit, and upload videos and who see their child’s YouTube success as a lifetime meal ticket.
At the same time – from a mental health perspective – kids are reportedly under significant amounts of pressure already. Is encouraging kids to develop their own businesses or presenting that as an achievable goal at their age adding to that pressure?
A new media landscape has changed the way kids (and adults) think about young people’s potential – and I believe kidpreneurs are the embodiment of this movement. Kid’s role models are increasingly their own age with their own businesses, brands and social causes.
As barriers to kids entering the business world become increasingly blurred through social media and commerce websites, we are likely to find more and more kids looking to make their mark online and looking up to those who do – it will be fascinating to see how these new kidpreneurs (and media brands creating content in response to this movement) continue to impact the landscape moving forward!