“I Wish I Had Smoked More Cigarettes!”

When I volunteer-speak to 7th and 8th graders, or to high school students, I make them this promise:

Cover of Seeing Past Friday Night

Nobody ever looks back on their high school years and says

“I wish I had smoked more cigarettes. I’d be up to a pack-a-day smoker by now!”

“I wish I had stayed out more often, drinking until  2:00 am in the morning.”

“I wish I had bought a bunch of drugs while in school.”

They don’t. And you won’t either.

Every Story Has a Hero

Teenage Rock Climber

Any author, screenwriter, or playwright will tell you that every story has a hero. The hero is on a journey. Then, a crisis occurs; an enormous threat or challenge that the hero must defeat or overcome. Out of a cast of characters, emerges a guide; an ally that comes alongside to help the hero. There are always high stakes and a call to action resulting in a climatic outcome, which always ends in failure or success.

For a story to resonate with us, it must always have these elements. Because, well, that’s life!

  • A Hero
  • A Journey
  • A Crisis
  • A Guide
  • High Stakes
  • A Call to Action
  • A Climactic Outcome

In this true-life story, you are the hero.

You might not think you’re a hero, because heroes do not always feel particularly heroic during their high school years. They haven’t even identified all of their super-powers yet! But, they do have super-powers. You do too. The problem is, those powers don’t always apply to what is important to you right now.

Some of your greatest skills and abilities that will help you become a great novelist, or entrepreneur, or firefighter, or nurse, or teacher, or Army Ranger, or songwriter are usually unrelated to scoring touchdowns or starring in the school play. You probably don’t want anyone telling you, “Don’t worry about that. Your day will come.” But what William Shakespeare wrote is very true: “We know what we are, but not what we may be.”

The Hero: Regardless of any limitations or challenges you have, you are truly designed for greatness. It is your birthright to dream heroic dreams.

The Journey: You are on a crucial journey in high school, with a cast of characters that includes new friends, new teachers, and new coaches. You have to juggle a changing physiology, peer pressure, and the emotional swings that occur when you ace a big test one day and get cut from the soccer team the next.

The Crisis/Threat: A storm is coming. A storm that can leave behind a path of incredible destruction. The single biggest threat to you living a powerful life is you making a bad decision regarding drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

The Guides: Your parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles are your guides! If you are Rocky Balboa, then they are your trusted fight-trainer, Mickey, who prepared him to survive all 15 rounds. Think about it. They are the ones who are truly in your corner, rooting for you to triumph all 4 years!

The High Stakes: At stake is a loss of respect, DWI’s/DUI’s/OWI’s, lawyer fees, suffering grades, loss of car privileges, addiction, and a risk that your siblings will follow suit.

The Call-to-Action: The Just Say No Promise Agreement that spells out the terms and conditions required for you to defeat the threat and receive some added incentives along the way!

This Story’s Climatic Outcome: Rewards begin immediately and victory comes at graduation when you, the hero, shake hands with your guides on a job well done. Like all heroes, you will fulfill the best version of yourself, and your greatest reward will the strong example you give your siblings to follow.

The stakes are high. We root for the hero. We root for you!

Are you up for the challenge?

Attention Parents … Your Teen has Left the Village!

Beautiful teens at summer festival

It Really Does Take a Village to Raise a Child:

It may have been the best-planned social event my wife and I have ever attended … 8th Grade Graduation for our daughter, Michelle, and her 57 classmates! Months of intense preparation by a 12-parent graduation committee resulted in an impressive ceremony followed by a dinner party that culminated in a professionally edited 45-minute music video featuring photographs and video clips of the kids as they surfed through 8 years of:

  • Classroom activity and spelling bees,
  • Track events and swimming meets,
  • Class trips and birthday parties,
  • Trips to museums and zoos,
  • Summer vacations and volunteer projects,
  • Science fairs and talent competitions, and
  • All of those travel teams!

I thought, “Wow. It really does take a village to raise a child.” Like us, I’m sure you were an important part of that village of Parents, Teachers, Coaches, Doctors, Educators, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and of course, Babysitters!. Then something rather earth shattering occurred … High School.

“Who?”

Up until that point, we knew all of Michelle’s friends and had formed many friendships with their parents. We coached them in sports, served lunch in the cafeteria, carpooled them to school, and knew their teachers and coaches. In high school, however, there was an entirely new set of teachers, coaches, and friends who we had never even met before. My wife and I would ask, “Now, Who is that again?” and “You’re going to Who’s house?” and “Who’s driving again?”

We never did find out who Who was!

Our teen had left the village. Like it or not, she was becoming a young adult. We had raised a child with the help of a village. Now it was time to help her become a strong individual, a responsible adult.

It Takes a Strong Individual to Transition from Childhood to Responsible Adult

All of a sudden, she was in a different world; one that really wasn’t as excited about receiving parental help. And, quite frankly, we didn’t have the time and energy to start all over again for her four short years of high school. But, it seemed like the timing couldn’t be worse for her to navigate this new world by herself.

Michelle was about to make new friends, learn to drive a 1500-lb car 70 miles per hour down the freeway on snowy nights, and say either yes or no to binge drinking, smoking, and drug use. She would begin new activities and make new decisions that would have enormous consequences that would extend well into her future. She was on the verge of receiving an explosion of new freedoms and independence at a time when her level of experience in these matters was relatively low. The village we knew so well was gone. And, we knew very little of her new world.

We raised a child with the help of a village. All of a sudden, we had to rely on her to make responsible decisions in this new world. Have you ever felt the same?

The Bottom Line Is This

On Friday night, when your son or daughter finds out that they didn’t …

  • Make the basketball team, or
  • Pass that chemistry exam you told them they better ace, or
  • Get that part in the play they so desperately wanted, or
  • See the text from their girlfriend that she wants to break up,

And someone comes up to them and says: Who cares? Let’s go get high. When this happens, their teachers will not be there. The police will not be there. Their coaches will not be there. You will not be there.

The Good News Is …

No matter where your teen is,
No matter what time of day or night it is,
No matter how often he or she has to make a critical decision,

There is one person who will always be there… Your teen! Wherever your son or daughter goes, he or she is always there! The one person who can Just Say No.

This can seem daunting, that they are relying on themselves. But, it can also be liberating for them; to know that they don’t have to rely on a dozen unknown forces to be safe. It empowers them and gives them a quite confidence.

Your job is to guide them to be their own hero! To motivate themselves to prepare for a big life.

Your teen will have to transition from the village to their new world … fast!

P.S. If you have a parent group, or a classroom of 7th grade, 8th grade, freshmen or sophomore students who would benefit from Just Say No, click here to see the presentation outline of the Just Say No Talk.

A Collision Course

Photo of a car driving along a winding road

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com

Do you consider yourself to be a good car driver, or someone who will be a good driver as soon as you get your license?

You will have taken all of the necessary driving tests and spent many hours on the road, and are probably a relatively conscientious person. You probably have what it takes to be a good driver. Right so far?

Now Ask Yourself This…

Will you be a better driver four years from now, after you’ve had 48 more months behind the wheel?

Regardless of age, everyone knows the answer to that question. The more time you spend driving in rain, ice, snow, hail, sleet, high winds, blinding sun, and thick fog, the better driver you become. Driving under different conditions, such as when you are stressed or tired, in mountainous regions or on long trips; this makes you a more experienced, better driver.

Because that is how experience works!

A Collision Course: Expanding Freedoms vs. A Lack of Experience

Very soon, you will learn how to drive a 2000 pound car 65 mile per hour down the freeway.

You will make choices on:

  • Where you want to go,
  • What kind of summer job you want to have, and
  • Whether or not you will pick up the habits of drinking, smoking, or doing drugs.

You will decide:

  • How you handle dating relationships,
  • Which colleges or trade schools to attend,
  • Or which career path to follow after high school.

And your experience in these matters, like everyone when they are a young teen, is relatively low.

These expanding freedoms and your lack of experience are on a collision course. They will converge. How will you deal with that?

One More Question for You

Do you consider yourself to be good at confronting drugs, alcohol, and tobacco? You are probably mature for your age and use good judgment.

But, will you have an even better insight after four years of watching some of your friends get kicked off sports teams, wreck cars, be cited for DWI’s, or injure others? Will you know more after seeing the carnage left behind from a drug overdose? From seeing younger brothers and sisters follow bad examples?

Nobody is saying that you are immature. Likely, you are more mature than a lot of people who are twice your age.

But, it is not a matter of maturity!

It is a matter of experience!

Defy the villains

The best advice you can give yourself is to stay strong for another day. The single act of confronting drugs, alcohol, and tobacco in high school puts you way ahead of the game.

In the meantime, there are real villains in this story that are counting on you making mistakes.

But, they will be disappointed.

Because, every story needs a hero.