A Chillin Blog Just for Teens

A blog to empower teens with knowledge and mindful living. To help you make your life better by strengthening your mind, your body and your spirit.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hands off My Brain

Could swtiching to Geico really save you 15% or more on car insurance?
Is the pen mightier than the sword?
Do woodchucks chuck wood?
Did the little piggy really cry, "wee, wee, wee" all the way home?

 If you watch tv, you can probably fill in at least ten more responses to the Geico question. You probably don't even know those responses are floating around in your head. What else is floating around in there?

As consumers of these ads, we have been conditioned to them. Everyone knows the man in the brown suit is going to spin around counter-clockwise, and everyone knows he will be wearing his brown tie with the stripe. Head titled slightly to the left, he will ask us the same question each time, but then answer it with a different one. "Does it really take two to tango?"The skit following that question will make you laugh. We've seen these ads over and over, and, without even knowing it, we've been conditioned to believe that switching to Geico can really save us 15% of more on car insurance. The man in the brown suit has become as familiar as the little green geiko with the British accent. (I love the one where he tries to beg off the name tag, but ends up wearing it!)

Did you ever think about how much we are being influenced every day? Teenagers, especially, are perfect targets for all types of people who want to influence them with their own agendas. People hone in on teenagers specifically because teenagers are caught in between stages. As a teen, you are young enough not to have formed your own strong ideas on certain issues. You are still very much open to ideas, and that's a good thing. At the same time, you are old enough to think about things and to form opinions. So, you can be influenced.

Think about it. Every time you turn on the television, your mind is being filled with ideas that the writers and producers of tv shows, or advertisers and their clients want you to think. For example, if a writer wants his audience to sympathize with a particular character, he will cast that person in a sympathetic light. Here's an example: Do you remember the movie Jumper; we were all pulling for the main character. But, did you ever think about the fact that he was actually robbing a bank? We received signals that this person, the jumper, was the character we were supposed to root for, and we did!

When this type of influence is exerted over us, without even knowing it we subconsciously think differently about that person or product or event from that point forward. This manipulation works whether the agenda is commercial, political, social or whatever. Doesn't the idea that someone else is influencing, determining, perhaps even controlling your thoughts make you want to question more of what you consume? Doesn't it make you angry?

There are many other ways your ideas are being manipulated by those who want you to think in a certain way. How about the music you listen to--do you ever focus on the words? What is the artist telling you? Do the musicians you listen to say things you truly agree with? Do they promote unhealthy ideas so that eventually, if you keep listening, you will come to accept them. Do they promote drugs? drinking? racism? When we buy and listen to their music, aren't we promoting what they're saying?

Here's an idea: How about if we decide to be picky consumers about not just the food and material items we consume but also about the ideas we consume? When we go shoe shopping, we might spend hours deciding between UGGs and Minetonka's, the chocolate or the black, ankle or calf height. When we buy an ipod or head phones, we might check the features and the capacity, the color and the weight.

Now think about how we consume all of the information provided to us through television, internet, music, books, video games, etc. All of these sources fill us with information which are really just someone else's ideas. Who are these people? What do they believe? What are they trying to influence us to believe? Why do they want us to believe it? Do we ever question any of this?

As consumers, we have the right to reject these ideas. We can exercise our right to reject them by refusing to take them in. If you don't agree with a certain musician's message, refuse to buy his songs. If you don't like what a television show is promoting, change the channel. Nobody controls your thoughts. Yeah! Nobody tells you how to think!

You might decide that you don't like the violence being promoted by Halo or Call of Duty. Send that message. Stop playing. After all, do you think the creators of these products have your best interest in mind? Or are they just making loads of money by selling you a product that may not even be good for you. Or, worse, are they trying to brainwash today's teens into thinking their way.

Its your life. You have to think about what's best for you. Challenge the products and the information that are being forced at you. Reject some of it because you don't believe in the message. Be a smart shopper. After all, it's your brain.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Importance of Creating Your Brand

What's your brand? Who are you? What are you known for?

Think McDonalds. What comes to mind besides Ronald? Golden arches? Junk food? Cheap? Large fries--fast? That's brand. McDonalds--a fast food chain restaurant that appeals to kids.

Ok. Now. Think Starbucks. What's its brand? Coffee. Tea. Environmentally friendly. Global clean water. A place where you're allowed to chill. Who does Starbucks attract? The young, up and coming crowd. Future success stories.

Try one more--Nike. Young. Fit. Fashionable. Focused. Daring. Driven. Just do it.

Now, ask yourself--what's your brand? What do you stand for and what do you attract? What would people say about you? Would they call you honest, hardworking, kind, trustworty? Or would they say, "laid back, but nice, generous, fun?" Or, would they think cheater, dishonest, untrustworthy? What have people come to expect from you? And, most importantly, is it who you want to be?

Here's how brand works.

Suppose you cheat, but only sometimes, maybe only in certain classes. Only when you really need to. Teachers know it about you. They talk. Eventually you become known as a cheater. You may not ever get caught. Or, if you do, there may not be any consequences. Except that people know your brand.

Now, suppose there's a test and this time you don't cheat. I mean, you decided to study really hard. The information just happens to click for you this time, and you ace the test. But your teachers already know your brand. They know you're a cheater. This particular teacher can't prove it. She's never been able to catch you, and that makes her mad. So, you ace this test, and your teacher assumes you cheated. Only, this time you didn't. I mean, come on. It's your brand. It's what people expect from you. Just try to prove you didn't do it.

Now you take the heat for it. You get detention, and a zero, and your further branded as a cheater. Your classmates facebook about it. The information moves at warpspeed. Everyone knows your brand.

Your brand is something no one can create for you, and no one can take from you, unless you let them. It's who you are, what you stand for, how you behave, what you're known for. And it sticks, sometimes forever. It can be changed, but it's not easy.

So, the next time you act. Think first. Is this who I am? Is this who I want to be? You get to decide. But, it not easy to fix. So, decide right the first time. What do you want to be known for? What's your brand? Maybe it's your generosity, the fact that you're always willing to help. Maybe you're a person everyone goes to for advice. Maybe you're a great student, or a dedicated athlete. A leader.

Create your brand and be proud of it.

I'll have fries with that, please.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Secrets of Life No One's Telling Teens

What do you want to be when you grow up?

For a while, I kept asking myself that question. Funny thing was, I was already forty when I was asking it. And, I had already been a lawyer for seventeen years. When I got tired of reading boring 40-page technical documents and arguing with bald men, I retired from my law practice and searched for something new. There were lots of stories circling around in my head. I began to write them down. That's when I found writing again. I started writing picture books. I wrote ten. Then I aged a bit into middle-grade novels. I wrote one and called it Zeek the Geek. It was about a group of kids who got bullied, so they formed a secret society in school after recruiting kids with special gifts. Zeek's gift was that he had a photographic memory and could play a mean saxophone, putting his audience into a hypnotic state. The group banned together and stopped the bullying using some pretty unique methods. Someday, I'll go back and revise that one.

I moved into young adult and teen novels. I wrote five more, three of them in verse. I'm working on getting those published. I feel like I get closer every day. In the meantime, I keep on writing, which leads me to my current endeavor. I finally realized what I've known all along. It suddenly became clear to me. I want to write for teens.

It's not because I want to be one. (I was one, and that wasn't an experience I'd care to relive.) It's because I understand you, and I feel I can make life better for you. At least, I want to try. I have a lot to say to you (stuff my own teens are totally sick of hearing). It's because I believe in you, and I recognize that the world needs you to succeed and be happy so that the future of our world can be happy too.

That's why I started this blog, A Chillin' Blog Just for Teens (and their parents too, if they want to read along). I'm going to make you some promises up front.

Here goes: I won't preach to you, and I won't judge you, but I will write about things that I believe can make your life better. It might feel like you're on the receiving end of advice sometimes. But, I won't lecture. I know how much teens hate getting a lecure. I'll always be truthful, and I won't tell you anything that I don't believe to be true and haven't already told my own teens. I may eventually talk politics because I think, as a teen, it's important to start to think about those things. It's your future. It's your country. And, yes, it's okay to mention God in my blog. I'd love it if you write me to let me know what topics concern you and what you'd like to read about and talk about.

I hope you enjoy my blog, but, more importantly, I hope it makes life better for you. You may not always agree with me. Please feel free to tell me (respectfully, of course). Just think of this blog as your own personal life coach and mentor.

Chill on.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Get Out Bald Spot

Why would anyone want to do hard work when they could just chill? I mean, think about it. You're sitting on the couch, actually even better, lying down. You've got an iced mocha extra, extra within reach. Your head is leaning on a pillow. Your legs are covered by a blanket. There's even a bag of tortilla chips within reach. Oh, and the Celtics game is on. It's all good. It'd better than good. It's heaven.

Okay, so now, your dad comes into the room. He wants you to leave your cozy station and put the trash out. Then he wants you to sweep the garage and vacuum his car. You ask him what he's smoking (in your head, of course). You keep looking straight ahead at the game, hoping he's only a bald-spotted hallucination that will disappear as quickly as he appeared. When he doesn't, disappear, that is, you try to engage him in the game. Maybe he'll want to watch it with you. It will pass, this chore thing. Just don't breathe.

But, he's not going away. He's more persistent than that fly that landed on your lunch today at school. Only, he can't be swatted away as easily. So, you look up at the ceiling and ask, why me? Face it, the last thing you want to do is get off the couch and start working--hard. So, why get up? Give me one good reason. Actually, give me three.

One--because he said so, and there's probably some uncomfortable consequence to telling him to take a hike.

Two--because the work needs to get done, and it's the right thing to do to get up and help your parents. You know that already. But, it doesn't make it any easier.

Three--Hard work is good for you. What???

Do you know that feeling you get after you run five mile, or finish a forty-page term paper, or clean you room? It's the return on sweat equity, and it's called accomplishment. The feeling of accomplishmwent goes a long way. the harder the work, the better the feeling. It may make your body feel tired, but your head will feel good. Hard work keeps you healthy and makes you happy. It clears your head and your heart. It can bring you the answers to problems you were struggling to figure out. When you do nothing, you get nothing. When you do something hard, you get a return on that investment. Maybe you won't see it right away, but it's there. You stack three cords of wood, you end up with muscle to show for it. You're building yourself, physically, mentally, and in a lot of other important ways.

You feel happy because you did the right thing. You feel happy because you accomplished something. You feel happy because you challenged yourself and because you contributed to your family. Your dad's no longer frustrated with you. In fact, he's thinking you're pretty cool right about now, and he's bringing you a bowl of popcorn to devour while you finish the game.

And, think how good that cozy spot on the couch will feel now that you're done!

Read: Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris

Banish the Green Lizards

I went to bed feeling incredibly beat last night. As I settled my head into my pillow and curled up on my side, I could almost taste the good night sleep I was about to get. But, instead of floating on white clouds, I spent the night fighting off a giant lizard with only my television remote (attached to the end of my cell phone charger) and my seventy-pound karate-chopping brother at my side. The giant lizard thing was licking its black teeth with its elastic tongue and dripping with full intent to eat my brother and me for a late-night snack. We screamed as we struggled to barricade the door to my room. The worst part was that, just when we thought we had shut the nasty thing out, it proved capable of turning my door knob and letting itself back into my room. Scaly green lizards with pointy claws aren't supposed to be able to do that. The struggle went on for what felt like hours and hours as I thrashed about in my bed, believing I had a chance against the slimy monster. Then, as I slowly reentered the conscious world, I vowed that when I woke up, if I woke up, the first thing I'd do was fix that lock on my bedroom door.

Sometimes it's difficult to figure out why we're having nightmares. Everything might seem okay in school. Our conscience is clear. We're even getting along with our parents. But, anxiety lurks deep below the surface. So deep, we may not even know we're struggling with it. It's probably best not to spend too much time interpreting our dreams. So what if the green lizard represents your girlfriend's father and you secretly hoped he'd eat your little brother first? Yeah, of course nightmares mean something. But, probably more important than figuring out what they mean is paying attention to why we might be dreaming at all. Even better, is figuring out how we might be able to come up with a better night's sleep.

So, if your sleep is filled with slimy green lizards, you might want to try this: Before you go to bed, sit on your bed--upright. Close your eyes, maybe rest your hands on your lap, and empty your mind of all thoughts. Dump everything that happened that day, everything that might happen tomorrow. Actually picture those things flowing out your ears. Now, sit there longer, with an empty mind, no thoughts, no worries, no fears, nothing. Just an empty mind.

You're shutting out the thoughts. But, they're stubborn, those fears about whether you passed your calculus test, they'll keep sneaking back into your head and you won't even notice. Take notice. Then, kick them out. Keep your mind empty for as long as you can. Try it again in the morning, maybe while you're brushing your teeth. You can clear your mind while you're driving (turn Eminem off). The more often you can empty your mind, the better.

Now, when it's time to shut the light and get in bed in search of some zzzzs, you'll have more than a television remote and a skinny little brother to keep the giant lizard away.