Could Steve Jobs have become Steve Jobs in Alabama? Parenting Thoughts.

Steve Jobs helped create some of mommy’s best helpers (Pixar, the studio that produced Toy Story, and the iPhone, which is all but surgically implanted on our persons). As a young adult, he would likely have been labeled a Troublemaker, with most schools unable to handle him. His parents had to make many lemon-bitter decisions long before there was a sweet apple.

To read his biography is to consider what a challenge it must be to parent such an iconoclastic person. Alabama has produced accomplished citizens – in fact, Jobs’ successor at Apple is an Auburn University graduate – but could we have handled Jobs? Some thoughts provoked by the book:

(1) Environment: The usual schools, teams, and activities don’t suit every kid. Jobs was an outlier amongst his peers. His parents made significant concessions for him to attend the best high school and college for his interests, even though he dropped out of college at one point. What would you have said to him at the dinner table when he broke that news? And after you’d scraped together tuition? Pass the economy-size bottle of  Tums.

(2)  Who Decides “Weird,” Anyway?: Even though we hate to admit it, we generally want our children to dress and act like other kids and ache when they don’t. Jobs was by all accounts one of the weird kids. Can we sincerely appreciate children who are unique? Remember, Steve Jobs and many of his ”weird” friends turned out to be successful, not just moving out of the house one day but also picking up the check for dinner instead of waiting for dad to draw his wallet (doesn’t everyone have a sibling or in-law who never meets this pitiful measure of success?).

(3) Think Different: We’ve always been a country of new ideas. Children must be taught – or is it allowed? – to think creatively.   We often do not have the time or patience to encourage this type of thinking, and worse, we may fear it.

(4) Encourage Interests: Perhaps the most striking point in the Jobs biography was his parent’s encouragement of his engineering interests despite his trouble at school. Apple’s co-founder, Steve Wozniak, was often expelled from school but recalled how his father continued to bring home computer parts and obscure manuals for his ‘garage tinkering’ (which of course led to the creation of the Apple computer). It’s hard to say where to set the boundaries. It seems that having that space to pursue his ideas helped Wozniak develop, although it would have been comforting to think being grounded gave him the opportunity.

(5) Partner with Teachers and Influencers: Today, Jobs and partner Wozniak might not have been allowed to stay in high school.  Their pranks were legendary, yet the influence of the adults in their lives was profound. Almost 50 years later, Jobs references his 3rd grade teacher (3rd Grade!) by stating the following, “but for her I would probably have ended up in jail.”

It takes patience and acceptance to deal with, and advocate for, a kid like Jobs.