Full Show Notes
“Grit” and “self-sufficiency” are buzz words that many parenting experts seem to extol. But how do you actually instill perseverance in a teenager? Nick Boothman knows from the experience. Author of one of the best-selling communication books of all time, How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less, Nick has raised five highly successful children. He has worked hard to teach his kids to be resourceful and to never give up.
He told me exactly how during our interview.
Another skill that Nick thinks is critical to teach teenagers is how to be captivating in front of an audience. He gave me some tips on how to accomplish this from his new book, The Irresistible Power of StorySpeak. It involves training teens to use colorful language and to tell brief, engaging anecdotes with a point.
Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen
1. When your teen is having a hard time on a trip
“I’ll bring you home right now. You’ll be fine. I’ll put you on a plane and bring you home now but it’s over. Because you’re not going back. So it’s up to you. If you give up you’ll be safe–I’ll catch you. Or you can go on.”-Nick Boothman
2. How to light a fire under your teen:(Members Only)
3. When you teen is complaining about an activity that is hard:(Members Only)
Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview
1. Push Your Teen to Handle their Own Problems:The theme of Nick’s interview ended up being how to give teenagers space to fail and to force them to push through difficult setbacks. He told me how his daughter once called from Australia in tears asking for help and he had to tell her that she was on her own. “Desperation is the mightiest driver of all,” Nick told me. You may never send your teenager around the world by herself, but you can certainly require more grit from your teen. Think back over the last few weeks and write down a few things that your teenager gave up on or asked you to help finish. What would have happened if you would have said “no”? Next to each situation, write a response that you can use next time to politely tell your teen this is their responsibility to fix. Try affirming your teen with a few words about how you know they can handle it on their own. Or appeal to their desire for maturity by pointing out that they are getting bigger and this situation is now their responsibility. Think: tough love.
Complete Interview Transcript
Nick: My qualifications, apart from what I have written, are the total age of my children is 216. So I’ve got 216 years of parenting experience. They’re all useful. They’ve all got amazing jobs all over the world. Seriously good jobs. And we raised hers, mine and ours, which is… We raised all of them, but hers from her first marriage, my wife’s from my first marriage, mine from my first marriage and ours together. We raised all of them, which are all so special, so that’s my experience in parenting. So I’ve been through a lot of teenagers and my grandchildren are now in their teens. So I’ve got generations that we can look at the various generations of teen and see how they have developed to where they are now. And the changes, as you know, are massive. And also, my experience is also the European experience and the North American experience and the British experience, all of which are different.
Nick: We commute to Portugal and I have grandchildren in Portugal, who are raised very differently there than children in North America. In fact, my 10 year old grandson who is quite small, the last two years has been training to be a bullfighter. So that would render my daughter in prison if she was in North America for doing that, but he loves it. I mean, you can’t stop him. It’s his choice. And he’s brilliant. He’s very, very clever and very, very smart. So I’ve got a lot of perspective along a lot of things. But the North American concept that you are your kids friends, is nonsense, it’s absolute nonsense. You’re there for them, you’re there to guide them, you’re there to do stuff for them and you love them and you’ll die for them. Not your friend, give me a break. We’re wearing the same clothes, give me a break. When you’re called junior the third, give me a break.
Nick: I think your job as a parent is to produce a productive member of society who is resourceful and the philosophy that Wendy, my wife and I have had, is basically, “You’re 14, you’re now a consequential thinker. You’re now on the edge of the nest, I’ll kick you up the arse and start flapping, because you’ve got to make something of your life.” And not in a nasty way, in a great fun way. I have so many people, I hear from these younger generations that, oh, my job in life is to make sure my kid never has a bad day.
Nick: No, they’re everywhere and I talk to thousands of people all the time. I just did a three day workshop now, I’ve just come off it this weekend. And they’re there, they’re everywhere talking about their kids like their kids are… Here’s the news for you, we live in a generation where we have one and a half generations of soft, decadent, over protected, over photographed and under inspired children. And it’s not their fault, but they’ve been told that they’re special. Well, you’re not special. You’re special until you leave home, then nobody gives two hoots about you. Yeah. Okay. It’s the same when I wrote my love book, How to make someone fall in love with you, in 19 minutes or less. To write that book, we looked at 2,400 couples who’ve been together more than 20 years and were still actively crazy about each other, and 300 people who consistently messed up in relationships. All my books are based on modeling excellence in other people.
Nick: Okay. Because, I learned writing my love book, and it’s the same with what we’re talking about now, there is so much terrible advice out there. There is so much crappy advice about love, about raising children, people giving advice are a bunch of wankers, okay? Who cannot work and can’t find a job. All my kids have found work since they were old enough to work. They all found it, we’ve never given them anything except an upbringing. And they’ll tell you, no, no, no, they’ve paid their way through university, they did everything. We were there for them, we love them and they know that and they love each other, because they’re hers, mine, and ours. But none of this, I’m your best friend. Crazy. It would never work. Too many broken hearts when you try to be each other’s friends.
Andy: Right. I mean, there must’ve been something that you instilled in them, obviously, that set them up to be so successful when they did get out on their own. Was there anything specific that you did to try to teach them?
Nick: They had gap years. They did gap years. Best thing you can give a kid is a gap year. I mean, you know what a gap year is?
Nick: Oh, okay. Well let me tell you. Let me take my youngest, Pippa, for example. Pippa is now 35 and now lives in Paris and travels all over the world. I mean, she was in Denver last week. She was in Berlin three days ago. She’s in Oslo now, she’s in. A gap year happens between leaving school and going to university.
Nick: Basically, it takes a year of preparation, but they choose a country and we help them. Pippa decided to go to Australia for a year. The deal is, we pay for the ticket, they go there and we find them somewhere to sleep for two weeks then they’re on their own, they have to support themselves. Well, of course. Why not?
Nick: And so Pippa chose Australia, Sydney. We bought the ticket and got her down there, found somewhere that… In fact, the house of the daughter of a friend of ours that we knew growing up, had moved there and lived there with her family. Pippa slept on the sofa there for two weeks and then left there, which was the deal and found… While she was there, she got a job filing in a doctor’s office, and then she found her own apartment. And at one point, phoned us in tears saying, “I worked, I found an apartment, I have just paid first and last months rent. I’ve been in there and it’s full of cockroaches. I can’t sleep there.” And she was crying and she was very, very upset because she basically lost all her money. I said, “Pippa, you know the deal. I’ll bring you home now, we’ll sort it out.” Which was really, really hard as a parent, for both Wendy and I. Awful, but that’s the deal. You give up, we’d bring you home.
Nick: And then you know what? Nothing. Three agonizing days, on the fourth day, she phoned and said, “You won’t believe it. I met this couple, they run a cell phone store. I’m selling cell phones at this store in Bondai beach. They’re amazing. I’m staying in the spare room of their apartment. Everything’s great.” She spent the whole time there, got other jobs, did really well, came back and she left a girl, and came back a woman. Resourceful, it’s about being resourceful. And the truth is, that is something that parents at all costs, attempt to avoid, is the fact that desperation is the Mountiest driver of all. If your kind can experience that, right, I’m sitting on a doorstep somewhere, I’ve got nothing. What am I going to do? If you can get through that, you can do anything in life.
Nick: I mean, maybe it’s happened to you. I don’t know. Maybe it happened to your brother. But it doesn’t happen a lot. I mean, what happened with Pippa was a bit extreme, but all my kids did a gap year. And part of it is the planning. Well, fine, what do you need to get there? And by now they realize, well, you need a visa. You need the passport, you need all this stuff. They had to sort that out for themselves too. Instead of having their parents do it for them or they’ll learn nothing. And they’re just bloody useless afterwards.
Nick: You can talk about what you want in there. Being pregnant or driving drunk or whatever, but if they’re not resourceful at that stage, well you really have to do something about it. If your kids are bozos… I’m not saying my kids are well behaved. No, they’re crazy, they’re wild. They can party hard and work hard. I really think this is what kids need. Slowly over the generations, this has been taken away by parents who, for the large part, have no people’s skills either, who’ve pampered their kids and brought up a bunch of kids who are really good at, when someone points a cell phone at them, praising without being asked, and are completely unresourceful. And they’re lovely kids, it’s not their fault.
Andy: I think there’s a fear, especially in middle class families, that my kids are going to get behind or that if I let them struggle too much, that they’re going to fall behind other kids who don’t do that, right? And I mean, you kind of glossed over it, but that moment where your daughter is calling you in tears, the natural reaction as a parent is empathy, is I want to help. And I think you make the right choice, which is, you force her to deal with it on her own. But for some reason, that’s really hard for parents to do.
Nick: Of course, it’s hard to do.
Andy: Okay. But I’m really interested in that conversation, right? Especially given your specialty in communication and stuff like that. I wonder if we could dissect that a little bit. The conversation with your daughter when she’s really struggling, there must be a balance there between empathizing with her and loving her, right, and supporting her but at the same time, saying you’re on your own.
Nick: Oh no, I didn’t say… All I said is, “I’ll bring you home right now, you’ll be fine.”
Andy: I see.
Nick: We can put you on a plane and bring you home now, but it’s over, there’s no going back, so it’s up to you. And that’s life really, you can give up and you’ll be safe, I’ll catch you or you can go on. It’s your choice. When my oldest daughter, Joanna, went to university to study industrial design, there were nights she phoned in tears saying, “I’m going crazy. I can’t take it anymore.” And we said, “It’s fine. Well, you can pack it in, give up and go and do something else. I’d think about it if I was you. Call me tomorrow or call me the day after.” And it was always… I felt so bad last night, but I didn’t say, there there, there there.
Nick: Look, believe me, my wife is a lot better at this than I am. But we’re both pretty practical people. Well, we’re very emotional people, but you’re raising a splendid creature. Well, like I said before, at 14 they’re consequential thinkers. You don’t need to tell them, if you get drunk and drive you’ll crash, you don’t need to tell them that. You’re going to say, well, what are you going to do about it? If you get pissed, what are you going to do? Are you going to call, Keys Are Us, or Cars Are Us and get a cab home? That’s what I want to know. If they’re going shagging, don’t say, did you have sex last night? What they going to say? They’re going to say no, I don’t know. Of course, they’re going to say no. Richard Branson has a story of what his mother did when he was five years old. He was making such… The story of his mother kicking him out of the car and saying, “Find your own way home.”
Nick: But basically, he was in the car and his mother was fed up with him and she said, “You get out of the car and you find your own way home.” And he did, and he attributes that to his ability to basically do anything. We haven’t done exactly that with our kids, but plenty of times… Because, we live on a farm. But look, we know they’re going to say, “I’m not going to–you figure it out for yourself.” And that’s not a bad thing to do with kids, that’s a good thing to do for a kid. It makes them resourceful, and it also makes them responsible. They think, oh well, next time they’re not going to go and bail me out. I better work this one out a little bit better. Because 12 or 13 kids are a bit nuts, they’re a bit nuts all through their teens. They’re definitely nuts through their teens, but they are smart as hell. And they’re great storytellers, they can lie like crazy. Sure.
Andy: Yeah. Yeah, teenagers do tell the most lies and are the most proficient liars, according to a couple of different studies.
Nick: Five and four year olds are pretty good too.
Andy: Yeah, yeah.
Nick: She stole my thing.
Andy: I see it right there in your hand. Yeah.
Nick: I have a thing in one of my books where, one of the things we did for the kids was, for one year on the first Tuesday of every month, we visited a different country for dinner, every month for a year. And what we actually did was that, we would choose a country and then we’d say fine, Wendy and I will research the food of that country and cook it and you guys will go and research the country. One would do tourism, one would do industry, one would do weather, I don’t know, whatever. And then when we had the meal, each kid had to stand up between the course and for about three or four minutes, give a little talk. And in the beginning they were nervous and shy, but after about two months, they learned how to do research. In fact, I remember once getting a phone call from a guy saying, “Can I speak to Sandy?”
Nick: Sandy was, I think 10 at the time. I said, “Who is this?” Says, “It’s the Mexican consulate, she phoned asking for some information and I don’t have the address. Want to send it to her.” Well, do you think that it helped our kids in their life growing up after, when five of them can stand up at the drop of a hat and improvise a speech anywhere? Of course, it helped them.
Nick: It helped them when they were stuck in Sydney in Australia, and they knew how to get up and walk into someone and start talking to people about what they need. Of course, it helped them. I mean, that’s more use than trying to make sure your kid doesn’t have a bad day. Teach them how to be… To speak in public. It’s the number one, identifiable predictor of success. The ability to speak up and say something important or not something that matters.
Andy: Right. And it’s also the number one fear that people list when they list fears.
Nick: Yeah. It’s the number one fear until someone’s standing in front of you with a machete in your face.
Andy: Yeah, exactly. Can we talk a little more about your new book? I really want to recommend it to people. You mentioned that this is a good thing to teach kids, how to be raconteurs. What are some things that we could do with our teenagers to kind of help them develop these skills, you think?
Nick: Well, first of all, I say that about all my books to parents who say, how can you get my kid… Leave it lying around at home. Don’t tell them to read it, just leave it at that, and you’ll see it’s moved the next day. All right? Whatever you do, don’t say, read this, because they’ll say sure and they won’t read it. All right. Leave it lying around. I’ve spoken about story speaking in my other book. In fact, I put somewhere on it, and this is absolutely true. It’s a proven fact that story speakers earn more, outperform, do better in school and college, get hired and promoted faster and get better service in person than over the phone, than fact speakers. And so this book tells you A, how to become interesting by using the senses in what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. So you can actually capture other people’s imagination.
Nick: The imagination is the strongest power that anybody possesses. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Imagination rules the world.” And it does. If you can capture someone’s imagination, you can do anything with them. And this will show you how to capture other people’s imaginations. Imagination is the strongest power we possess, it’s stronger than willpower. That’s why diets don’t work. So if you can catch your kid’s imagination, instead of telling them facts and figures, you’ll capture their hearts as well. It shows you how to make images that you can insert in someone’s head, that they can’t shake loose and they’ll remember. Warren Buffet is probably one of the best people in the States, and he knows it. He puts, what I call, [icolas little 00:14:47] Little icola images, it’s in the book how to do it. For example, when he was asked how he feels about his job, he said, “I tap dance to work.” That’s an icola.
Nick: That’s sticking the image in someone’s head. He could have given them 15 pages of description how he feels about his job, or he could just tell them what it does for him. The number one identifiable predictor of success, after 20 years of looking, was the ability to speak up. Called social extroversion. That was some research done at Stanford university. Once you’ve spoken up, well, the great truth about face to face communication is that you’re a genius until you open your mouth. So, these kids have to learn that something that’s come out of their mouth, which is useful. Look, kids are great, they’re greater today than they’ve ever been. They’re just getting messed up by parents who don’t know how to raise productive kids. The book will tell you how to tell stories that have a point. I just used the story of Pippa to you, to illustrate the fact that a kid needs independence and can triumph through it.
Nick: Instead of telling you… I told you a little story. Parents can tell their kids little stories, will make much better, do much more for the kid than telling them not to go out and get screwed or get pregnant. They say, “I just heard this incredible story today about this girl who went out…” And just distance it. Instead of you telling your kid what to do, you’re just telling the story about someone else, which they will remember, and they can form their own opinions of.
Nick: Storytelling, story speaking in raising children is utterly fundamental. I did this teaching course, it’s actually local here, this weekend. It’s called, Speak and Get Paid. These people wanted to be professional speakers, and I taught them how to do it in different ways, techniques, all of it is in the book. But the moment they mastered how to tell a short story, what I call a point story, a story to illustrate a point and not just a yarn. The panel… And the panel was a big time panel. We had the vice president of national speakers, Bureau in Chicago there. The moment they launched into a point story, you could see the panel lean forward and time started to stand still, because stories are to the human mind, what food is to the body. It’s all stories. Everything in our life, from the moment we wake up in the morning, to listening to the news or the weather report is a story, this is what’s going to happen today.
Nick: TV shows, it’s a story. A book is a story. You get into the office, you’re standing around the watercooler and someone’s telling what they did last night, it’s a story. The rest is work in between. We live in between stories, that’s it. And our kids could awe. My kids can awe and my wife and all of our friends that we hang out with, they tell fantastic stories all the time. It’s like the pub in England, you go down the pub and you know what you’re going to hear? You’re going to hear 100 guys telling stories. They may be big yarns, or the fish wasn’t that big, it was that big. But they’re all telling stories. That’s what you do. What do you do in a pub? You have a beer, a bit of cheese and a story. That’s what you’re going to the pub for. It’s true, you go down to the pub, what for? A beer, a pie and a story.
Andy: To me, one of the… We were talking about the role of parents is not to be a friend. What is it? I mean, to me, a lot of it has to do with values and imparting values to your children that they can then take with them when they’re out on their own. And I think you clearly have a really strong value of self-sufficiency that it sounds like you’ve really worked hard to impart. The stuff with the different countries and sending them on gap years around the world, right? There’s something about a worldliness that seems is a value that you’ve imparted.
Nick: Imparted is the word. We don’t teach them values, we live values.
Andy: Yeah. Right.
Nick: I mean the only things I would say to the boys is, you stand up when an adult comes in the room, you’re polite. And I’m very happy that my kids have style, which I think is hugely overlooked. They’re stylish kids. And in this book I’m just doing now, I think you have seen a copy.
Nick: Right at the beginning I talk about… In my acknowledgement, it is to… Wait. I’m going to read it to you. There’s story speakers everywhere, but it means there are raconteurs everywhere. Sandy, Thomas, Kate, Joanna, Pippa, they’re raconteurs. They can talk to anybody to make it sound interesting. They can talk about anything. And I think that’s important too, that you teach your kids how to be a raconteurs. A lot of them don’t know what a raconteur is.
Nick: It’s a French word, a raconteur is somebody who can make anything sound interesting. They can make it sound interesting for parking their car in the parking lot of the supermarket to getting into the supermarket. They’ll say, you won’t believe what happened in the parking lot. I could not believe what happened. They make things sound interesting. That’s a great skill to teach a kid, how to be a raconteur, how to talk and make things sound interesting. These are simple things. And so we don’t tell our kids… Nobody is going to tell a kid, don’t drink and drive because they know already. There’s not a single person in this world who needs to be told how to lose weight, they know, they just don’t do it. Okay.
Nick: But we have high standards and my wife has very high standards, which I admire and have rubbed off on me. Our children live them. We didn’t have to give them those values, they lived those values. In fact, they’re more likely to tell me what to do these days or not just these days, for the last 30 years. Dad, you can’t do that, that’s ridiculous. And I don’t mean that in a smart ass way.
Nick: Look, when our grandchildren came over from Portugal now, they thought, great. Because, they came over with their parents, then they were left here for three weeks. They thought great, for once they can have their iPhones and their iPads in bed. Not a chance. You hand them in before you go to bed and they were fine. You’re not having that thing going while you’re trying to sleep. They never slept so well in their lives. And they didn’t argue either. You put your phone down here or else you go and sleep in the garden.
Andy: There’s a lot of research that kids today are sleeping with these things under their pillow, right? I mean, they’re taking the phones to bed with them, and even just the light from the screen, delays melatonin production for hours, is terrible for the sleep cycle, not to mention the intrusion of these devices into our lives, right?
Nick: Not to mention the dumbing down of the imagination. If you went to bed… When I was a kid, occasionally I could listen to a play on the radio, or a drama on the radio, which is great for the imagination.
Andy: This has been so much fun and-
Nick: Well, thank you. Was nice to meet you.
About Nicholas Boothman
Nicholas Boothman has been called “one of the leading authorities in face-to-face communication in the world” by The New York Times. He has taught his revolutionary techniques of “Risk, and Rapport, by Design” to thousands of corporations, colleges and universities around the world including the Harvard and London Business schools. His first two books, How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less and How to Connect in Business in 90 Seconds or Less have been translated into more than 30 languages.
A former fashion and advertising photographer who dealt with hundreds of new faces a week for clients like AT&T, Revlon and Coca-Cola, he is now recognized as a world-renowned expert in turning first impressions into profitable relationships. The New York Times calls him “the new Dale Carnegie,” the Economist Magazine calls him “truly inspirational,” and Good Morning America says, “His book is my bible!”
Click here to visit Nick’s website.