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 Two Sides of Peer Pressure

Hands lifting armLast year, a Wall Street Journal article revealed new findings that suggest teens may fall prey to peer pressure so easily “because their brains derive more pleasure from social acceptance than adult brains, and not because teens are less capable of making rational decisions.” In other words, when you’re a teen you tend to place a higher value on being liked than when you’re an adult.

But here’s where the article takes an unexpected turn and raises a very important point. It reminds us that peer pressure has historically been a negative phrase, but it doesn’t have to be. When teens and adults alike mention peer pressure, our assumption is that the pressure they are referring to is leading a person to do something detrimental, dangerous, even illegal. But, the article points out, that is not always the case. Ultimately, the effects of peer pressure come down to who you choose as your peers. And you do have a choice.

If your friends put a high value on good grades and getting into a great college, the pressure they put on you—whether directly with their words or indirectly with their own actions—is that you should work hard in class and steer clear of trouble. If your friends are serious about sports or being in top shape, they are likely going to be people who peer pressure you into training hard, persevering, and steering clear of drugs and alcohol.

A old phrase that I often use when I’m speaking on peer pressure is: “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” The point I’m trying to make is that your peers—especially when you are younger—can make or break you. Yes, your peers can pressure you to do things that are detrimental to your future. But only if you’ve chosen to be friends with people who are doing the wrong things. If you choose your peers more wisely, they can pressure you to do the very things that are most beneficial to your future.

In the end, peer pressure can push you down the path to your dreams. You just have to choose the right peers. It’s one of the biggest choices you make in life.

Stay Your Own Course

Forest path The Pew Research Center recently published a new survey on young adults in America between the ages of 18-33. The conclusion of the study described this group as “relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry—and optimistic about the future.”

As you read that list, you can find pros and cons in the description no matter what you believe. You may also be reading the list and thinking, “I’m not in that age range so what does this have to do with me?” I encourage you to see these descriptions differently. The survey results ultimately represent the environment you will soon be surrounded by. Even though you might be graduating this year, or technically younger than the 18-33 age range, you will likely face the same challenges of those who graduated a year or two before you.

What the survey shows is how the majority are dealing with the challenges: they are “unattached…linked…burdened…distrustful…in no rush…and optimistic.” While the combination doesn’t sound like doomsday, it’s certainly not a recipe for success either. But remember, this is a reflection of the majority.

And you aren’t the majority. You are an individual.

When it comes down to it, the group statistics don’t matter on an individual level. No matter what is typically happening around you, no matter what the majority of people your age believe, you still get to choose who you will be and what you will do.

While I certainly hope that the majority of those in today’s younger generations do something great for the world, history reminds us that it only takes one extraordinary person to make a major impact. You can be that person if you are true to your own course. What is it that you dream of doing? Who is it that you dream of being? Do and be that today. And then stay the course no matter what the the majority is doing and being.