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Youth culture is always important for staying in the zeitgeist, and Generation Alpha (those born between 2010 and 2025) is well on its way to creating big waves in the business world. They’re too young to vote and too young to drive, but they’re already taking the digital world by force.
Take Ryan Kaji, for example. Born in 2011, Kaji is one of the most successful YouTubers in history, with 35.5 million followers on his Ryan’s World YouTube channel, and he’s turning 12 years old with an estimated net worth of over $100 million. Pixie Curtis is the CEO of Pixie’s Fidgets and became a millionaire at the age of 11.
The top 10 Roblox creators (which are mostly Gen Alpha and younger Generation Z) earned an average of $23 million last year, with at least 500 creators earning over $140,000, according to the company. Meanwhile, I spent my childhood out and about in Chicago, hanging with friends, not thinking about get-rich-quick schemes, and in my late 20s, I still get told I’m too young to run a business.
These numbers are obviously outliers, but they represent a young generation eager to make some cash.
Social media, streaming and video games opened a lane for younger kids to earn a living doing something that comes naturally, as they were the first generation born with iPhones and now ChatGPT. Experts say this can have benefits and consequences. Kids who work can get so caught up in their jobs that they miss out on essential childhood experiences they can never go back to relive. This is a contributing factor to the growing loneliness epidemic among young people.
Still, some children have an entrepreneurial spirit and may often get in trouble following the traditional path of graduating from school before starting to work. Before discussing Generation Alpha’s entrepreneurialism, let’s address the uncomfortable conversation that’s been coming up more often in the age of young influencers… child labor.
Are kids even legally allowed to work?
Among the changes brought forth from the Industrial Revolution were fair labor practices, which included the introduction of child labor laws. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the minimum age for non-agricultural work at 14 years old and restricts the number of hours minors can work during school days. This is the minimum safety net; state laws may provide even further protections.
The laws are intended to keep children from being exploited, although we only need to look to Hollywood to see the long history of working children. Every child actor, from Shirley Temple to Millie Bobby Brown, was protected by California state laws, which have some of the most stringent requirements around children used in theatrical employment.
California is not the only state doing it – nearly every state has some exemption for children working in performance-related jobs. Many of them have legislation to address these types of jobs to ensure the industry follows the rules geared specifically toward child actors, musicians, models, streamers and influencers.
However, California law is notable for mandating that 15% of a child actor’s earnings are placed in a trust until they are 18 so they can benefit from the headline-making paydays a-list child actors can receive. While this does make the entertainment industry more accessible to children, it’s not the only industry they can work in.
Advice for Gen Alpha entrepreneurs
Child entrepreneurs can be found even outside the metaverse and YouTube. Consider ABC’s Shark Tank.
Throughout the show’s 14-year history (it premiered in 2009, placing the show in Gen Z), it featured a lot of children-owned businesses. Moziah Bridges, for example, founded Mo’s Bows at the age of nine with his mom, and by the age of 11, he appeared on “Shark Tank” and landed an investment from Daymond John.
There are actionable steps for young people hoping to follow his path (or forge your own).
First, don’t feel pressured to build the “next big thing.” You don’t have to scale a company to 10x and become a multibillion-dollar company. That’s not how everyone defines success, and you can learn a lot about entrepreneurialism just by running your own lemonade stand in the neighborhood.
Also, please know that there is no age limit on taxes. Even if you begin working straight out of the womb, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants its cut. However, you won’t pay social security and Medicare taxes or the Federal Unemployment Tax. Talk to an accountant to ensure the business is on the level and set up for success.
Above all else, seek mentors from many industries and ensure you’re using the opportunity to foster positive working habits. Business is tough, and even adults want to quit when times inevitably get hard. Find someone willing to talk you through what you need to steer the business forward.
Doing chores is as much a normal part of being a kid as playtime, and if you find a way to monetize either of those things, then it may be family time well spent. Ensure you protect everyone involved by having your legal caretaker file the proper paperwork and set realistic and attainable goals to succeed.
Everyone starts somewhere, and the path to entrepreneurship takes a lot of persistence and grit to succeed through the various stages of being a founder.