“The surest way to corrupt a youth,” wrote German scholar Friedrich Nietzsche, “is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”
As teens of any generation go through the painful process of individuating, it’s not uncommon that they either try to model themselves after the cool kids that belong to the “in” crowd or they fall into a state of despair that there is nothing unique about their own personalities or skill sets which will deliver the attention – and validation – they crave. Compounding the problem are parents who are trying to live vicariously through their offspring by pushing unrealistic expectations or those who lament that celebrities seem to have more influence on a teenager’s behavioral choices than any lessons imparted throughout childhood.
In his recent interview with You Read It Here First, author and educator Daniel Blanchard talks about his new teen leadership series, Granddaddy’s Secrets, and the importance of being a positive role model for the young people in our lives.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: The passion for helping young people find their way in a troubling world often stems from either having been influenced by supportive mentors throughout adolescence or, on the flip side, having no one to turn to and learning to overcome personal hardships through trial and error. What was your own background in this regard that shaped your career decisions as an adult?
A: Believe it or not, some of my earliest role models that shaped my life were sport heroes that I watched on television. I would watch these amazing athletes do something special and then I would want to do something special too. The next mentors that entered my life were my athletic coaches. I learned a lot from these men. They were strong, skilled, and smart. These were the things that I wanted to become too. However, I am quick to acknowledge that I didn’t have enough mentors in my life growing up, and thus I felt that many times it took me twice as long to accomplish things. Even though we do learn from our mistakes, mistakes are painful. Teens should go out of their way to pursue mentors.
Q: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you when you were growing up?
A: One of my early wrestling coaches told me after one of my losses that life was a marathon, not a sprint. And if I just hung in there, someday I will pass out these other kids that got an earlier start than I did in this sport. I did hang in there, and became very good over time, and eventually passes them all out.
Q: There’s an escalating sense of “entitlement” among today’s tweens and teens – a mindset that has evolved as much from bad parenting as it has from political leadership that believes the have-nots are owed whatever the haves earned through hard work. What’s your response to a young person who has no role models in his/her life from which to learn an appropriate and disciplined work ethic?
A: A young person has to start reading biographies of successful people. Here in these books they will learn how hard and how long these great people had to work for their success. Once they really get to know someone who has done something special, they will see that there are no handouts. Or at least now handouts that create any person of real quality. My first book, Granddaddy’s Secrets: Feeling Lucky? is a good example that explains how there are no handouts that could ever make one a real leader, and what many of our friends and society is doing is wrong. We need to think for ourselves, stand on our own two feet, and create our own luck.
Q: How about the highly visible role that celebrities play in reinforcing bad behaviors (i.e., arrogance, substance abuse, out-of-control spending, out-of-wedlock pregnancy)? I’m guessing you’ve heard no shortage of teens say, “Well if So-and-So can do it and they’re famous, why can’t I?”
A: I’m tired of stars saying that they are not role models. They couldn’t be more wrong. They are role models whether they like it or not, so they better start behaving like role models because our youth is watching. I feel that it is our responsibility as adults to be those role models that our youth is looking for. And if we’re not big enough yet in their eyes, well then, we better get busy getting bigger, while we point them to real role models that really are doing something special and don’t behave badly. Finally, we need to open our mouths and tell our youth about the bad examples that celebrities are reinforcing. Let’s point out their bad behaviors and get it into our youth’s heads that that kind of behavior isn’t okay. If we can get our youth to start viewing celebrities’ bad behaviors as wrong, then maybe celebrities will think twice about what they are doing.
Q: What inspired you to write Feeling Lucky?
A: My students asked me over a ten year period to write the book. I finally broke down and wrote it. I figured they must be seeing something that I’m not if they are continuously telling me to write a book in order to tell other students what I’m telling them. So, I figured, why not have faith in them and do it.
Q: How did you decide on the title for this book?
A: I wanted to change the paradigm of luck being when one lazily sits back and waits for something good to come to them, to working hard and going out and creating good things in one’s life. The new definition of luck is preparation meeting opportunity. We create our own luck through hard work. I was hoping by calling my first book, Feeling Lucky? I can get people to think about what luck really is.
Q: In a nutshell, what’s the book about?
A: Granddaddy’s Secrets: Feeling Lucky? is about a struggling teen who lives in a rough neighborhood and goes to a rough school. On his 16th birthday he meets up with his estranged and mysterious Granddaddy who shares with him what it means to be a leader and a real man.
Q: I understand this is part of a teen leadership series. Tell us more.
A: Yes. My Granddaddy’s Secrets teen leadership book series has three books in it. The first book, Feeling Lucky? is the 10th grade story of a struggling teen who spends his 16th birthday in the park listening to his Granddaddy’s wisdom. The second book, Feeling Good, is the 11th grade story of the same teen who has grown from his Granddaddy’s wisdom and is now trying to apply some of these secrets of success and leadership to his own life. The third book, Feeling Strong! is the 12th grade story of the same teen as he is getting ready to graduate high school and take that next big step of going out in that great big world.
Q: There can certainly never be enough books on the market to encourage young people to be independent thinkers, to stay positive, to be kind, and to make a difference as they go forth into the world. The question, though, is how do you get them to read these books – including yours – when there’s such a multiplicity of distractions (especially technological) to take their attention elsewhere?
A: It’s always a struggle to get teens to read. However, the best way to get someone to read a book is still word-of-mouth. A teen needs to constantly hear us talking about these books like they are something really special. They need to constantly hear how books made a difference in our lives. If teens hear this kind of stuff enough, they will become curious and just may read these books that we keep telling them about.
Q: Speaking of technology, is too much of a good thing actually a bad thing in a teen’s social development? For instance, is insularity and anonymity breeding a generation of youth that can no longer communicate in person or, worse, feel they shouldn’t be held accountable for anything hurtful they say via an electronic medium?
A: Sadly, I do believe that that is happening to some degree. We adults remember what it was like to actually talk to people. We must go out of our way to talk to teens. They aren’t getting old fashion human conversations from most of their younger friends, so they need to get it from us. During these interactions we can build relationships with them and work on their communication skills, as well as their life skills, and let them know that they can’t hide behind electronics and say hurtful things to each other.
Q: For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and is prompted by feelings of stress, depression, inferiority, anger, or powerlessness. What do you tell a struggling teen who is overwhelmed by life’s unfairness and believes that the only solution is a fatal exit?
A: Talk to an adult. Adults do care. In return, as I mentioned above, we adults need to go out of our way to constantly talk to our youth and build those relationships. No teen should ever feel that he or she does not have an adult that they can turn to. In addition, I also tell our youth that life drains us all, and all of us need to constantly fill up our emotional bank accounts. We fill up our emotional bank accounts by reading positive, self-improvement books, and by having great conversations and relationships with others. So whenever, life makes an emotional withdraw from our emotional bank accounts, we can handle it because we are always making positive emotional deposits back into our emotional bank accounts. By constantly doing this, we never let life emotionally bankrupt us.
Q: What do you say to the parents of that struggling teen?
A: You are the most important person in your child’s life. Don’t give up. They are listening to you, regardless of how they are acting at the moment. It may take years, but eventually, our youth will show us that they were indeed listening.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on my third book of the Granddaddy’s Secrets teen leadership book series, as well as a second edition of my first book.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you?
A: They can check out my website, blog, and vlog at: www.GranddaddysSecrets.com. I also have a Granddaddy’s Secrets Facebook page they can visit and like. In addition, they can find my book on Amazon, as well as other major distributors.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Teens, you are special. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t sweat it if you don’t feel like you’re winning the race at this very exact moment. Stick with it and you’ll do plenty of winning before your time is up. And when you are all grown up, remember the people that helped you get there, and make sure you return their acts of kindness to the next generation.