What Are We Creating?

troubled-teensThere is no question that America’s youth are facing tremendous challenges that are holding them back from reaching their full potential. Risky behaviors, including alcohol, illegal drug and tobacco use, violence, and early sexual activity, are among the leading causes for unreached potential in teenagers.  However, I believe the reason these problems exist for our nations youth are much deeper than the visible surface issues of just risky behaviors.  I am convinced, that a majority of teenagers’ problems exist because of the steady decline of value systems, the lack of parental involvement, and the gradual move away from teaching the importance of having good character.

Studies indicate that a lot of people are afraid of the kind of society we are becoming in the United States.  Many people think that there is some significant difference between kids today and kids “like we were,” and they believe things are deteriorating.  Based on 14 years of speaking to more than 3 million people I am convinced that things are deteriorating and believe that most Americans are genuinely concerned by the world they see.   Its almost as though we’ve lost interest in raising children in our society, and a good deal of our problem comes from that.  Teenagers today are spending more time with their friends and less time with adult supervision and the results are that they have become responsible for socializing one another.

Parents and teachers see the need and feel as if they are not equipped to do a good enough job and are asking themselves, “How can we better influence the kind of people that our kids become?”  Simply put, parents and teachers are desperate for help and are looking to companies like ours who provide real and authentic character development assemblies, programs and resources.

Character education is needed in every school in the United States regardless of demographics; from urban to rural, the need exists.  It is vital for every student, regardless of background, ethnicity or societal status.  Youth throughout America face the same needs, the same challenges, and the same realities in their lives.  I believe in order to mold and shape the value systems of teenagers, we have to be willing to devote more time, effort and resources that will inspire, educate and equip them to embrace character as a lifestyle. I may be old school but I still believe that integrity, respect, honesty, perseverance, compassion and courage are the fundamental building blocks for building a better society.

Just think what life would be like in the future if teenagers were encouraged to embrace a lifestyle of doing whatever they wanted, without regard for consequences. The most important thing in life would be to get exactly what you want, whenever you want, and by any means necessary. Thus, you have the absolute right to do whatever you have to do, to satisfy whatever desire, craving, or wish you have.  Tell the truth at all times, unless it’s to your advantage to lie, deceive, or tell a partial truth.  Never take responsibility for anything. That way, you never have to worry that you may have done the wrong thing. Blame the misfortunes of the world, and in your own life, on the poor judgment of other people.  Keep your promises, unless something better comes along.  Kindness is for wimps. Let your true feelings show, no matter how unpleasant they may be.  Show care and compassion for your fellow human beings, unless they’ve hurt you. In that case, all bets are off. Have little or no regard for how your actions affect other people. It’s their problem, not yours, if they’re offended or harmed by what you say or do.  Never, ever cheat, unless you can get away with it.  Do not, under any circumstance, report wrongdoings you observe. Don’t get involved. It’s none of your business. Always follow the New Golden Rule: “Do unto others before they do unto you.”  In other words…Think about yourself, and only about yourself, and you will be fine.

Seriously, how long could anyone live this way? What would the world look like if everyone followed these rules? It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s in our countries own best interest to teach our children the importance of character and to take ethics seriously.  Yes, it’s possible to imagine a world without character. But is that a world in which any rational person would want to live? 

The True Meaning of Tough

Tough kidThe latest research shows that 7% of high schoolers reported being threatened or injured by a weapon on school property; 20% reported being bullied; and 33% reporting being in a physical fight within the last year. Whether or not you’ve been on one side of those statistics, there’s something important I want you to know: being tough isn’t about controlling, intimidating, bullying, dissing or defeating another person. In fact, there’s nothing easier than making yourself look and feel good by making someone else look and feel bad. Needing to diminish the value of others in order to increase your value is a sure sign of weakness. And it’s not the path to reaching your dreams.

We live in a world where we often see and hear people forcing their way through life, leaving a trail of others behind them all in the name of success. It’s a lie that you shouldn’t believe. The success that comes with that behavior is an empty, lonely success that won’t last. While being a confident and assertive person is an important quality, being confident and assertive is not the same thing as being cocky and aggressive. If you are cocky, you don’t care about what others think or feel—you just do “your thing” with an air of aggression and apathy. On the other hand, if you are truly confident, you know how to assert yourself in a respectful, conscientious manner. While everyone may not agree with you all the time, you never devalue someone for thinking or acting differently. In fact, if you truly believe in what you are doing and ultimately know it’s right, then you shouldn’t need to say a word—the results of your actions will eventually be proof enough.

In the end, those around you are never immune to your words and actions. None of us lives in a cave. But if you choose to do what’s right, and if you choose to value the lives of others as much as you value your own, while others won’t always agree with what you say and do, in time they will always come to respect you. And earning the respect of those who are different than you or don’t see eye-to-eye with you is the truest meaning of tough. Be truly tough.

Say Yes to Your Dream, Part II

girl-planeLast week, I told you that until you get serious about your dreams for your life and truly hone in on them and own them, you will struggle to stay motivated in school. Sure, you can gut it out, put in the tedious hours, spit back the information you’re supposed to learn, and get a better grade just because that’s what a good student is supposed to do. But how long does that approach last? Are you really going to stay motivated to knock out that Geometry homework every week, not just for a couple months but for several years, with the “because I’m supposed to” strategy?

It’s highly doubtful.

Don’t hear me wrong. If you’re that rare sort of individual who doesn’t need a strong reason to excel in school, then more power to you. You have a leg up on most of your peers. But if you’re like most who struggle to see how learning Algebra or Chemistry or…you fill in the blank…will matter in the grand scheme of your life, then clarifying your dream is not only a good idea; it is one of the most important actions you can take. Here’s the proof.

In a recent MindShift blog post (http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/08/how-a-bigger-purpose-can-motivate-students-to-learn/), author Ingfei Chen explained that a few years ago, a psychologist named David Yeager interviewed high school students about their hopes and dreams, wondering what dreams were most common among those who excelled in school. He discovered something he didn’t expect. It wasn’t the students who spoke in generalities that they wanted to make good money or do what they loved for a living that seemed to put the biggest stock in their schoolwork. It was the students who went a step further and associated their future dreams with a specific purpose larger than themselves, like caring for the sick or improving the community where they lived, that ultimately rated their schoolwork as most meaningful.

“Given this information,” writes Chen, “Yeager and his colleagues wanted to know: could such a bigger sense of purpose that looks beyond one’s self-interests be a real and significant inspiration for learning?”

Yeager and four colleagues from the Univerisity of Texas, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania recently set out to run a serious of four studies to determine if “purposeful learning”—the idea of linking your schoolwork to your higher purpose in life, e.g. your dream—could help you overcome the boredom, lack of meaning, and lack of enthusiasm you feel about your schoolwork.

The results?

In sum, says Yeager’s colleague Marlone Henderson, with a mindset that is founded on a students’ dreams, “when they encounter challenges, difficulty or things that could potentially be roadblocks to learning, it motivates them to persist and barrel through.” Education researcher Camille Farrington of the University of Chicago further explained that this result occurs because “the student owns [the sense-of-purpose] and kind of puts those pieces together in their own heads, for themselves. And that is a different thing than your mom or your teacher telling you, it’s important to do this because blah, blah, blah, blah.”

In other words, your dream can be the strongest force in your life. Learn it and lean into it. Start today.

Say Yes to Your Dream

Child with planeIf you struggle with being motivated to succeed in school, I want you to know a couple things. First, you’re not alone. It’s challenging in your teenage years to make schoolwork a priority when so much else is going on outside the classroom. The second thing I want you to know is that you shouldn’t look to the next motivational poster hanging in your school’s halls to get you excited to study. That’s not going to do much for you. In fact, it may do the opposite; it may just make you cynical about studying harder and its relationship to a brighter future.

The truth that most adults in your life won’t admit—if anyone has at all—is that messages like “stay in school” and “education is power” and “math and success add up” are meaningless to you unless you have a dream for your life. They fall flat and don’t motivate you in the least bit, if you don’t have a dream, because without a dream for what you want your life to be you don’t have a strong enough reason to succeed in the classroom. There is no deep, heartfelt connection between how you act at school and your desires for life.

If I put up a poster in your school it would say simply: “Own your dream.” It wouldn’t say anything about doing better in class or staying off drugs because I know that, ultimately, when you own your dream and it becomes a very real part of your being, you will take whatever measures necessary to make it a reality. And you won’t let any hurdle stand in the way—even schoolwork.

Say yes to your dream. The rest will fall in line after it.

Be Kind

Group of high schoolersAround the world people are mourning the death of legendary actor Robin Williams. He was a giant of a man on screen and according to family and friends, an even greater man off the screen. There’s no doubt he will be missed not just by those who knew and loved him but by millions of others who enjoyed his shows and movies over the years. It is such a sad and unnecessary end to such an incredible life. And now that we’ve heard how hard and long he fought his demons of drug abuse, alcoholism, and depression, the news of his passing is that much more tragic.

There are many things Robin Williams’ death reminds us of, but one in particular sticks out to me: it’s hard to truly know what someone is going through in his or her life. Most of us are pretty good at putting a smile on while we’re in the presence of others. Robin Williams was one of the best. He was a comedian at heart. But deep down he was hurting far more than anyone realized.

As you look around your school and pass dozens of faces each day, remember that despite appearances, you probably don’t know someone’s full story. That’s why 2,500 years ago, Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” They are great words to live by. And if you can own them in your life when you’re young, you will be a light in others’ lives for a long time.