VHS motivational speaker offers advice to parents & students


Motivational speaker Mike Donahue spoke at area schools on the topic “Talking to Brick Walls – Really Understanding Today’s Youth Culture”. Photo taken at Canyon Ridge MS by Cheryl Kleffner. 

By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News

The Vandegrift High School PTA hosted motivational speaker Mike Donahue on Oct 28 who covered the topic “Talking to Brick Walls – Really Understanding Today’s Youth Culture”.

The presentation was also presented at Canyon Ridge and Four Points middle schools during the same week.

Donahue is a youth minister of 18 years and professional public speaker uniquely suited to addressing the challenges kids and teens face today. With his own personal history as a troubled teen —​ and as a father of four —​ Donahue spoke as much to the students in attendance as to parents.

His message? That kids today are under enormous pressures, unfamiliar to their parents, having to do with the constant presence of their peers through technology.

Phones = pressure

“That five minutes it takes to get from math to English —​ they’re being judged,” Donahue told parents. “They’re constantly being judged. And they’re not being judged on their real life, like what kind of person they are, their character. They’re being judged on a slice of their life,” like an event at school or their peer relationships.

And it doesn’t end when they get home from school, because their phones go with them everywhere. “This is one continuous day (for these kids) that just keeps going and going,” he said.

As a result, kids reach for solutions to help relieve that pressure, sometimes asking for help from a family member or professional, but sometimes resorting to drugs, alcohol —​ even self-injury instead.

“I see a lot of kids under pressure and pain. And when they’re under pressure and pain they do one of two things: they either reach for the top shelf and get help. Or they reach for the bottom shelf… and all of a sudden it becomes a self-medication issue,” Donahue said.

Providing a judgement-free zone

Parents can play a key role in interrupting this cycle. Donahue encourages parents not only to shield their kids from peer pressure, but also to recognize the pressures and expectations they themselves bring to bear on their kids.

“Every day they’re getting judged in their school. So when they come home, make that place an environment where they don’t feel judged. I don’t mean let them do everything… (but) rules without relationships lead to rebellion. You have to keep that relationship going and build that relationship, and then you have something to draw out of the bank if you have to punish them, if you have to discipline them,” he said.

When meeting with parents after the numerous talks he gives at schools throughout the U.S., Donahue often hears the same thing: I had no idea.

“And that little phrase bothers me as a parent. ‘I had no idea.’ I want to know. Even as painful as it is, hard as it is —​ I want to know,” he said.

Your kids really like you

Donahue has seen firsthand that the desire to share goes both ways. “Your kids want to tell you about the pressure… They really do… I hear this a lot from the kids, ‘I wish I could tell my parents this.’”

“They do want to please you. You’re one of the people they’re on a stage for,” he said. With that desire to please comes a responsibility for parents, however. “They want you to be proud of them. And so when they make mistakes, and they’re goofy… you’ve got to make sure that your kids know that you enjoy them, that you really care about them.”

Time with our kids is key, according to Donahue. He cited an MTV survey in which high school seniors were asked the number one thing that makes them happy. Their overwhelming response? Spending time with their families. “They want to be close to us.”

Get out of the water

He acknowledged that kids will make mistakes, despite the presence of parents and trying to make the best choices when possible. To those kids (and their parents) he offers sound advice.

“I tell kids, you don’t drown because you fell in the water, you drown because you stayed in the water,” he said.

Parents and students who were unable to attend the presentations in Four Points are encouraged to view Donahue’s books and additional resources on his company’s website, www.r5online.com.

Better communication in three steps:

Donahue offered some simple advice for parents to follow in order to better communicate with their kids.
“In a community like this, it’s really easy for young people to feel so much pressure from you… Sometimes you’ve got to help them and take some of that pressure off. I’m going to give you three things that you can do.
Get them out of the social media game for a couple of hours once in awhile. Don’t make it a weird thing, ‘I’m taking your phone away!’… that feels like punishment to them. Do something that requires the phone not to be there. ‘Hey look, why don’t we go to a ball game? Let’s both leave our phones.’ And you leave your phone too.
And if you take some of that pressure off by giving them some time —​ have conversations with your kid (where you allow them to open up, and they start to really tell you stuff).
And I’m going to give you the best piece of advice that you’ll ever get. And if you listen to this, I’m telling you that it’s going to help you: Close your mouth. Don’t judge them. DON’T judge them. Stop talking. When you ask them some questions about their life, or the pressure they go through, don’t give them your story of your life, ‘cause they don’t care. They care about you, they do. But they don’t care in that moment. If you open the door to let them tell you something, discipline yourself to be quiet. Don’t talk. Let them talk. They want to talk… They really want to talk.”