The XX Factor

Is Buying Your Kid a Business a Bad Idea?

It sounds like the ultimate in helicopter parenting-not to mention the ultimate bad idea. If your fashion-design major daughter can’t get a job, why not buy her one? The Wall Street Journal is reporting on what might be a recession trend: parents ” giving their kids the business .” Buying a “Pita Pit” (surely the subliminal 90210 reference is intentional; who could resist the mental image of Brenda’s dad handing over the keys?), a “College Hunks Hauling Junk,” or a “Fibrenew” franchise for a jobless kid is one way to stave off unemployment and hope to help your heirs beat the sentence of doom and gloom that the downturn seems to have brought upon them. (Who hasn’t read the reports that a slow start to a career could cost big over a lifetime of earnings ?)

Other media outlets are profiling students with multiple graduate degrees and no prospects, with headlines like “Gen Y: No jobs, lots of loans, grim future.” Buying a franchise might look like a better investment than grad school for a kid with no real calling toward either. But how well is a young franchise owner without, say, a passion for pitas really likely to do with a small business in a tough market? The WSJ article overflows with hints that it’s the dads in question (all obviously successful enough to afford franchise fees) who really wanted a fresh start. One father had to push his son to sell his services; another worried that his kid wasn’t making enough sacrifices for the business. It’s hard enough to watch a kid struggle, or even fail. Watching them fail with your money (and a conviction that you could have done it better) sounds even worse.

My kids are too young for me to have a personal take on this. I’m still financing the occasional lemonade stand (and yes, I make them pay for the sugar and lemons). If I were the parent of an entrepreneurial jobless grad, I might be willing to help out some. But I’d make sure she had plenty of skin in the game.

Photograph of lemons by Saul Loeb/Getty Images.