A Conversation with Daniel Blanchard

Daniel Blanchard

“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

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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.

 

LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS

LTTCover“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes,” wrote an unknown author.  “Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.”

Was there ever a more mystifying or mercurial entity sharing your roof and eating all of your food than a human teenager? In her new parenting book, LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS, popular columnist Myrna Beth Haskell wisely and whimsically affirms the empathetic message “You’re not alone” to the bewildered moms and dads of today’s younger generation.

 Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start out by looking at how – and why – your popular syndicated column Lions and Tigers and Teens transitioned to a full-fledged book of the same name.

A: Since I have dialogue with parents on a regular basis, many of them suggested I put the columns together into a guide.  I started to look at all of the columns I had already written, and I realized that compiling my favorites together was a fabulous idea!  The chapters are actually longer than the original column installments.  I added more from the original interviews, and I added additional tips.

Q: Newspaper and magazine columns are typically stand-alone fare on a variety of different topics. In compiling columns for inclusion, how did you keep the whole thing cohesive for prospective readers?

A: This was easier than one might think.  I was able to group the columns into sections so that parents could easily scan the book for “general” types of issues/solutions.  For instance, the section “Firsts” deals with issues such as a teen’s first time behind the wheel or first boyfriend/girlfriend.  The section titled “The Bad and the Ugly” deals with serious problems teens might face (i.e. depression, substance abuse, bullying).

Q: What is the overarching theme of the book and who is your target demographic?

A: Theme/Central message:  No parent is perfect. However, if you are willing to try different approaches and communicate with your teen regularly, you are well on your way to solving any issue.  Collaborate with your teens to find solutions to problems, and your teen will be well on his/her way to becoming an accomplished adult.

Demographic: Caregivers of teens (moms, dads, secondary teachers, etc.) – generally men and women between the ages of 38 and 55. 

Q: Do today’s teenagers have it harder or easier than they did when you were a teen yourself?

A: I think that many of the issues are the same.  Teens are still dealing with peer pressure, body image, self esteem, bullying, violence, and academic stresses.  One stark difference in my opinion: the amount of violence teens are exposed to.  I do not remember movies and games being so focused on gratuitous and graphic violence – many times void of consequences.  I think teens have more access to this type of media today due to the Internet and social networking.  Violence is exploited and easily accessed.

Q: Knowing what you know now as a product of life experiences, would you ever want to go back for a do-over? If so, what would you do differently?

A: I would never want to “do-over” any stage of my life.  I truly believe that we are who we are today because of our past experiences – good and bad.  This also goes for parenting.  Every parent makes mistakes.  You learn from them and you move on.

Q: What fascinates, inspires and/or troubles you the most about the modern teen mindset?

A: Technology can be wonderful and it offers teen’s exposure to places and ideas that help to expand the mind and imagination.  However, there is a dark side to all of this exposure.  Today’s technology exacerbates “instant gratification.” Texting, IMing, and other forms of shortened/instant messaging create problems we didn’t once have.  To some extent, many teens are losing the ability to express themselves in reasoned and thoughtful ways.  They are building relationships where the only contact is via a computer, as opposed to taking the time to actually “be together” and talk to someone.  Bullying has also become more hurtful (cyber bullying) where egregious comments or harmful images can be sent to hundreds of peers in an instant.  

Q: Should parents allow celebrities to be their teenagers’ role models?

A: Teens should understand that celebrity is a business…that what they see on TV or in movies is a fabrication of reality.  Many celebrities are portrayed in the media as going down the wrong path because it sells newspapers and advertising space.  Parents should make an effort to point out good things teen celebrities are doing in their communities and talk about why instant celebrity might cause a person to make bad choices.  It is a pipe dream to think your teenager won’t be curious about celebrities, so you need to have frequent and open discussions about celebrity.

Q: Your love of the written word was ignited at a very young age. Were you a voracious reader as an adolescent and a teenager?

A: I was definitely into books.  I was into the horror genre as a teenager.  I read a lot of Stephen King.  I also loved books about adolescent angst written from the adolescent perspective.  I wrote a book review column for my high school newspaper.

Q: What were some of your favorite books?

A: Favorites in adolescence: The Shining, The Stand, The Exorcist, Are You there God? It’s Me, Margaret, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

Favorites in College: Catch 22, Beloved, Misery, A Clockwork Orange, The Sound and the Fury

Other favorites: In Cold Blood, Memoirs of a Geisha, Angela’s Ashes

Wow…I guess these lists are quite diverse! Basically, I love any book that really goes into “character.”

Q: What are you reading now?

I’ve just started Stephen King’s 11/22/63 about the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  I also have Killing Kennedy on my shelf – waiting to be read.  Unfortunately, I do not have the time I would like to read strictly for pleasure.  Much of my time reading is spent doing research for my features and column installments.

Q: At what point did you awaken to the realization that you wanted to make your living as a full-time writer?

A: In elementary school I knew I wanted to be a writer.  However, I didn’t start out as a full time writer.  That is extremely difficult to do. Most budding writers have day jobs.  I used to teach at a community college, and I also worked as a technical writer.  Once I began freelancing in 1997, my writing career developed from there.  It takes time to build relationships with editors.  It was very part-time the first several years when my children were young.

Q: Did you have mentors to guide you on that journey? If so, what were the most valuable lessons you learned from them?

A: I’ve stayed in touch with two former teachers – one is an author and one a poet.  I’ve asked them both for advice over the years.  More recently, I’ve had contact with other writers via social networking, as well as folks I’ve had contact with whom I’ve met through my work.

I guess I’ve learned through experience and from mentors that you have to love to write -first and foremost.  Most writers do not strike it rich.  They write for the love of writing…which is what I do.

Q: You’re the parent of two children. Over the course of writing your columns and developing the structure of your book, did you learn anything new that could be applied to your own parenting style?

A: I definitely learned to lighten up at times.  My lead-in for “Tornadoes and Other Hazards” has a light-hearted tone partly because I realized I had to let my son’s sloppy lifestyle go a bit – “pick your battles” comes to mind.  There is a difference between issues that drive us crazy because they just “drive us crazy” and issues that concern our teens’ health and well being.  I decided to focus on the latter. I’ve also learned that there are many approaches that work.  You need to decide what’s best based on your family dynamic and the personality and maturity level of your teen.

Q: Are you a parent, a pal or both?

A: I’m a “parent” most of the time.  I think some parents try too hard to be “friends” with their teens.  Teens need parents…adults to guide them and draw boundaries.  However, at times, I do things with my teens that a friend might also do…including giggling with my daughter until I have the hiccups or playing video games with my son.  You have to know how to have a good time with your teens even though your first job is to “parent.”

Q: At the end of each chapter in the book is a section called Tips and Tales. What were some of the best tips that other parents contributed?

A: The “Tips and Tales” sections include great advice from other parents.  My best tips:  One parent wrote in about her own experience with depression in her teen years for the “Down in the Dumps” chapter which addresses teen depression.  I also received some great tips on anti-bullying programs at various schools.  Parents, who also happen to be principals, high school guidance counselors, and teachers, wrote in with great tips.  Their advice is obviously coming from more than one perspective.

Q: How much research went into the planning of the book?

A: Research is extremely important for the type of writing I do.  I consider myself an educator, so I have to get it right.  I do general research on each topic before I even approach experts to interview.  The direction my topics take is influenced by my experiences, but often changes a bit once I do research and interview experts (psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, educators).  This is information my readers need to be armed with when they approach a problem.

I also did research on how to put the book together.  I looked at other compilations and popular parenting books.  The chapters are grouped into sections to make it easy for parents to find a particular topic.  I opted to do my own foreword because I was able to talk about my inspiration for the book and column.  The afterword (“Common Parentisms…and the answers your teens are thinking, not saying”) is humorous and goes with the tone of many of the lead-ins for the chapters (It kind of raps up the “generation gap”).  After all, parents of teens have to have a sense of humor. 

Q: Were there existing parenting books that influenced your approach to Lions and Tigers and Teens?

A: Since my book is a compilation of my favorite column installments, I would say the influence started with my column.  My work falls into the parenting genre, and I favor a lighthearted, down-to-earth, or humorous tone in the books and columns I choose to read by others.  I absolutely love Erma Bombeck!  I also enjoy the Newbie Dad column, by Brian Kantz.  Actually, I enjoy several “dad” columns and books, including work by Bruce Sallan (A Dad’s Point of View).  I think dads have a propensity to laugh at themselves more so than moms. 

Q: What do you feel is the most serious problem confronting teens in the 21st century and what is the remedy to help them deal with it?

A: There seems to be a lot more stress on teens today – school stress, social stress, stress about finding a job when they get out of school, stress about affording college, etc.  Stress is the underlying factor for a lot of problems that adolescents face (teen depression, substance abuse, test anxiety…the list goes on).  If parents can guide a teen to focus on their goals, improve their self esteem, face issues head-on, and allow them to make mistakes…stress will decrease and teens can focus on becoming a valuable member of society.

Q: Which chapters proved the most challenging?

A: “The Truth, the Whole Truth, well…sort of” (about what to tell your teens about your past) was difficult because there were many diverse opinions.

“That Ain’t the Way to Have Fun” (about teen substance abuse) required a lot of research.

Q: Conversely, which chapters were the most fun?

A: “The Locked Door” (about teen privacy): I just loved writing the lead-in for this one.

“No Jacket Required” (about teens refusing to wear jackets): This was fun because of all of the great comments I got from parents on this one.

Q: What is something that most people would be surprised to know about you?

A: I am an avid gymnastics fan – another passion of mine.  I was a gymnast.  I also choreographed routines for NCAA Division I teams, and I was a Level 10 judge for over 15 years.  Today, I still try to make it to local championship meets and, of course, I follow what our US girls are doing on TV.

Q: What advice would you give other writers who are in the process of writing their first book?

A: Don’t get discouraged and have the courage to allow other writers to critique your work.  Understand that when you’ve finished your book…your work is not done.  Prepare to market your book even if you’ve signed with a traditional publisher.  This process can be a daunting one if you are not aware that you have to put in just as much – if not more – time marketing as you did writing.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m always writing new features concerning children’s health and development, and I continue with the column each month.  I have plans to start a new column for empty nest folks and a possible second edition of LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS.

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LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS, published by Unlimited Publishing, is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk as a paperback and ebook. To learn more about Myrna, visit her website at http://www.myrnahaskell.com.