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Life Strategies For Teens



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About The Book

From the son of Dr. Phil McGraw comes Life Strategies for Teens, the New York Times bestselling guide to teenage success, and the first guide to teenage life that won’t tell you what to do, or who to be, but rather how to live life best.

Are you as tired as I am of books constantly telling you about doing your best to understand your parents, doing your homework, making curfew, getting a haircut, dropping that hemline, and blah, blah, blah? —Jay McGraw, from the Introduction

Well, you don’t have to be anymore! Employing the techniques from Dr. Phillip C. McGraw’s Life Strategies, his son Jay provides teens with the Ten Laws of Life, which make the journey to adulthood an easier and more fulfilling trip. Whether dealing with the issues of popularity, peer pressure, ambition, or ambivalence, Life Strategies for Teens is an enlightening guide to help teenagers not only stay afloat, but to thrive during these pivotal years.

Whether you are a teen looking for a little help, or a parent or grandparent wanting to provide guidance, this book tackles the challenges of adolescence like no other. Combining proven techniques for dealing with life’s obstacles and the youth and wit of writer Jay McGraw, Life Strategies for Teens is sure to improve the lives of all who read it.


Life Law One: You Either Get It, Or You Don't

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.

-- Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM (1943)


To discover and use the huge power you have to change your life. Learn how the game is played so you can get unstuck and have more of what you want and need. Stop being pissed off and start winning. Become one who gets it.

Kim, a friend of mine in high school, hated our cafeteria food, and at least once a week she would sneak off campus and go to one of the nearby fast-food places. The problem was that our principal caught her every time she came back and gave her a detention.

Kim hated detention but always thought she would get away with leaving "this time." She never did. By Christmas break Kim had served twenty-one detentions.


Next time your math teacher is droning on and on, why don't you let your mind wander a bit. Think about this: Why do some people seem to do so well while others, like Kim, seem lost and confused and don't appear to have a clue how to do any better?

Take it a step further. How is it, for instance, that Tom and Dave can score the same on an IQ test, yet Tom is a total waste at school while Dave makes straight As? Why is it that Meghan can maintain a great relationship with a guy while Laura, who's much better looking and more vivacious than Meghan, can't get a guy to take her out for more than two weeks? Why is it that Robert has been able to rise up from his abusive childhood and Amy has been able to succeed despite growing up poor while William, who comes from one of the most prominent and richest families in the city, is a total loser?

Why is it that the most popular girl in school is, in fact, the most popular girl in school? Why is it that the star athlete is so determined to succeed? Why is it that the school's class president is so good at organizing and presenting information? Why is it that some kids are so good-natured and so friendly you always want to sit with them at lunch?

Is it because they are more gifted than you? They've got genes that you don't?

Get real. Not a chance.

I hate to be blunt, but there's no better way to say this: These are people who have pulled their heads out of the clouds and decided to learn how the world works. They have stopped stumbling along, they have eliminated the types of behavior that just don't benefit them in the long run, and they have figured out what it's going to take to get the results they want. They don't stew over their problems, they don't look for excuses about why they can't get things done, and they don't get angry and pout about how life can be so unfair. Instead, they have made the effort to change their lives by accumulating certain information, putting together a plan, and applying the right skills.

In short, they "get it." They know that it isn't the luck of the draw that determines who gets to be successful. They know there isn't much guesswork involved in getting the results that matter -- whether those results be good grades, starring roles in anything from a sports team to the drama club, more freedom and independence after school, or even happiness and a deeper sense of peace.

They know there is a kind of "system," or process, that can be used to get ahead of the pack. They have taken the time to study that system. For them, learning that system is no different than learning to drive a car or fly an airplane. They know there is work required to learn how to navigate through life. For them it's never been enough just to become aware that there is a system. They learn how to make that system work for them.

It's no different for you. All you have to do is learn that system and then work it, and you, too, will get what you want.

Sounds sort of cut-and-dried, doesn't it? All you have to do is follow a few rules. Learn a "system." You're thinking, "Come on, Jay, you don't know what you're talking about. Life is very anxiety-ridden, full of problems and weirdness, crazy parents, backstabbing friends, bossy teachers. How can that be?"

Trust me, all you have to do is work the system.


Are you wondering just what in the heck I am talking about? Think back on the other people you know who are successful. The reason they "get it" is because they refuse to choose behaviors that they know will put them at a disadvantage with the rules of the world. What they do choose are behaviors that they know will get them the things that they want.

Here's an example of how the system works.

Grades: The guys and girls who "get it" in this world know that if they make poor grades, they get a poor level of respect. They know that if they make mediocre grades, they get only mediocre respect. They know that good grades create a level of respect and trust from parents and teachers that they cannot get any other way. They know that good grades lead to more freedom and more responsibility in life.

Here's the important thing: Those who "get it" know that the world's response to good grades is a fact of life that just isn't going to change. They accept that fact and they utilize it. When I was cruising (or so I thought) through my teens, I hopelessly did not "get it" about grades. Whenever the report card came out every six weeks my dad would sit me down for the big talk. He'd say, over and over, "How can you not want to study? How do you not have a thirst for knowledge? How can you not discipline yourself to do this? Don't you hate showing up at school and everybody thinks you're the guy who knows nothing?"

I think I heard the "thirst-for-knowledge" speech a thousand times. I'd tell my dad that I would really do better and study harder the next six weeks. But as soon as I was back in my room, I'd go back to staring at the ceiling. Apparently, I just didn't want to work the system. I'd rather have fun with my friends, concentrate on things like basketball -- you know the story.

But did my refusal to work the system make me any happier? Was I more fulfilled living the carefree existence because I wasn't studying? I'm afraid not. I was always feeling slightly guilty, and slightly worried. Thank God I finally had my moment of epiphany, where I woke up and realized, "Hey, you male bimbo, who are you kidding here? This is your future that you're letting slip away from you." But if I had just "gotten it" when I was fifteen, my life would have been so much better, so much calmer, so much more rewarding.

Many of you are probably like me. You haven't spent much time learning and working the system. Some of you have just drifted along, thinking you can't really affect your destiny until you become an adult. Others of you are out there saying things like you shouldn't have to be judged on such things as your grades. You're saying, "I don't have to conform to the ways of the world."

Maybe you're right, but you're missing the point entirely. I'm not talking about right or wrong; I'm just talking about getting the results you want in your life, period. When you are one of those who "gets it," it's as if you are the star in the movie of your own life, and you are making things happen, rather than waiting for them to happen. You write your own script, you choose who is in the film, and you even direct the action that leads you to the ending you want. Instead of just reacting to whatever comes along in life, you get to live a life you have designed.

Sounds pretty fancy, but think about it. To get anywhere in life, to achieve any of your goals (even the most nonconformist ones), you have to figure out the best way to do it, and that requires you to figure out the rules you must follow and the roles you must play. You want to be a sports star in school? There is a system you have to work to get there. You want to be the most popular kid in school? There is a system you have to work to get there. You want to be in the chess club? There is a system you have to work to get there. You want to live with some passion in your life? There is a system you have to work to get there.


Please understand, this is not a Life Law aimed only at those of you who want to be the super-great performers. It's also for all of you who know, deep down, that the time has come to put your life together. It's a Life Law for those of you who know you "should" do something about your life and who'd like to change, but who just aren't sure how to change. It's for those of you who blame circumstances for your place in life, but who don't know exactly how to find the circumstances you want. It's for those of you who feel so bored that you don't even like hanging out with yourself.

Think about how much time you've put into some aspects of your life. You've spent hours mastering video games, or sports, or memorizing songs. But you spend little or no time learning the system of life and then working it.

I'm not saying that your goal should be to become fanatically driven and so determined to be successful that you sacrifice all the other parts of your life. I'm not saying that at all. But there's a big difference between just going from day to day barely getting by, versus understanding who you are, how your life works, and how you can take the initiative to design your life. It's only when you finally "get it" that you can beat back all those lingering feelings of anxiety and confusion that you often have at night when you're sitting up in your bedroom alone wondering why no one seems to understand you. It's only when you finally "get it" that you can get to a place where you are no longer ignored, unfairly targeted, or flat-out run over. We know how easy it is for that to happen.

Think of what "getting it" will do for you. If you're in the game of life, whether you're currently playing the game at school for grades, or socially for popularity, or trying to land a certain girlfriend or boyfriend, or competing for a part-time after-school job, think of the incredible edge you will have over everybody else if you understand how the game works.

You will have an advantage because knowledge is definitely power. I see it all the time when I sucker my dad into playing video games with me. He doesn't have a clue how to score, he doesn't know where the trap doors are, he doesn't know how to generate extra points -- so he fumbles along with a ham-fisted approach to a game he just doesn't understand. I slaughter him every single time. I don't mean some of the time; I mean every time. My dad is as smart as me and as quick as me and even has eyes as good as I do, but he just doesn't get it. Half the time he's holding the controller upside down.

No matter how highly you think of yourself, if you don't understand the rules of this world, you are not even a threat when you find yourself in competition with those who do get it, those who have the skills and know the rules. Let me tell you:

  • It's not uncool to know how the world works and to know how to get the things that you want.

  • It's not uncool to figure out a way to get along with your parents.

  • It's not uncool to find a way to get along with your teachers.

  • It's not uncool to say "No, that bothers me," when talking about behavior you don't want or you're not ready for, like drugs, alcohol, or sex.

  • It's not uncool to have a diversity of friends.

  • It's not uncool to get excited about something in your life, to find a passion, and to live with passion.


One of the best things about those who get it is that they realize that they have to interact with others. I know a lot of you believe that you can make your own way, march to your own drummer, and set your own agenda. Fine. You still have to interact with other people, and if you want to get anywhere at all, you must understand people, if for no other reason, so that you can get them to do what you want them to do. When you "get it" about other people -- when you realize what drives their behavior -- then you can use this knowledge for yourself and your own strategy to be successful.

Let me tell you about something that happened to my father. This story taught me a lot about "getting it." Here's how he tells it:

When I was in high school in Kansas City, I worked the night shift down at Hallmark Cards. When you get off work at two or three o'clock in the morning, it's a different world than what people see during the day. We were night owls looking for trouble, and we usually found some. A buddy of mine, who also worked at the plant, owned a Chevy Chevelle muscle car with over four hundred horsepower. After work, we liked to race around the deserted streets at ridiculous speeds, looking for a drag race with some other late-night moron with a hundred dollars to bet.

One night, during the Christmas holiday, we had two passengers on our late-night prowls: a longtime friend visiting me from a small town, and a friend of the driver's whom I had not met before. Under my then-theory that stupidity was a virtue, we were doing well over a hundred miles an hour on Main Street, right on the fringe of downtown Kansas City, when an unmarked patrol car appeared out of nowhere, clinging to our bumper. His car was apparently pretty fast, too. He didn't seem to want to race; I was pretty sure he didn't have any beer to share, and boy, did he look mad.

Skipping the usual practice of flooding us with spotlights and calling for backup, the patrolman pulled us over and leaped out of his car, slamming his door so hard we could feel it. I don't know if this cop was truly a giant or just looked that way that night, but he looked big enough to have his own weather systems, and it definitely looked like a storm was brewing.

As the officer stomped up to the car, my buddy's friend panicked. Wriggling and sliding out the rear window, he dropped headfirst to the sidewalk and took off running. If that cop wasn't mad enough before, he was now. It was bad enough that we had violated his turf; now, because one of us had run away, we had further insulted him and defied his authority.

The policeman yanked the driver's door open, grabbed my buddy by the collar, dragged him out, and ordered us to follow suit. Holding my friend by the collar, he said, "I'm going to ask you one @!&Z$ time: Who is that boy that ran off?"

In his most surly and sarcastic tone, my buddy snarled, "Well, his name is...Sam Sausage! What of it?" I remember thinking, "Buddy, you just don't get it." That cop hit him so hard it almost broke my nose.

Up to that point, I had been worried about getting a ticket or an impounded car. Given the turn of events, that would have been a godsend. Apparently, this particular officer was not real big on paperwork. My small-town friend was, unfortunately for him, next in line. His problem was, he really didn't know the runner's name, and neither did I, so my prospects were not looking too good, either. Now the cop ran the same drill. Grabbing the collar of my friend (who was now wishing he could "beam" back to "Nowhere, USA"), he looked him in the eye and said, "I'm gonna ask you one @!&Z$ time: Who is that boy that ran off?"

Well, as I said, my friend may not have known his name, but he did know what probably wasn't going to be the best answer. With absolutely no surliness and no attitude, and with all the sincerity that a petrified, cottonmouthed kid could muster, he said, "Sir, I swear to you on my mother's grave (she was of course alive and well back in "Nowhere"), I don't know his name, but, sir, I can promise you this: I am absolutely certain it is not Sam Sausage."

As scared as I was, I instantly thought, "Now he gets it. We may live through this yet." I said not a word, figuring this cop needed a really good leaving alone. My dad had taught me there are times in life when you just don't want to miss a good chance to shut up. This was clearly one of those times. One guy did not get it, and he was kissing the pavement and would sport two black eyes for the next several weeks. One guy did get it, and he was still vertical and could see out of both of his eyes. A stark contrast. I can assure you that we never traveled over twenty-five miles an hour on that cop's beat again, ever. Life just goes better when you are one of those who gets it.

Now to avoid "kissing the pavement" yourself, you have to be willing to learn the Life Laws and how things work so that you can fold all of that into your life.


To give you a running start in building a strategy for the way you deal with others, I want to share with you some of the most common characteristics of all people. If you understand these common things it can help you know how to deal with people and be more effective.

I'm no Dave Letterman, but let me give you my Top 10 list straight from Dorm 66 at the University of Texas. This Top 10 list is made up of things that are almost always present in all people. If you know these things, you have a great understanding about your teachers, friends, parents, brothers and sisters, and anyone else you encounter in your life. Already, right now, when you finish reading this list, you will know things that 99.9 percent of the people in the world don't know. Here are the ten most significant common characteristics:

Top 10 List from Dorm 66 at the University of Texas

10. Even when it's not Halloween, everybody wears a mask. You must look beyond the mask to see the person.


9. Even good people have bad days.

8. People often do things for other than the

apparent reasons.

7. People like, trust, and believe those who like them.

6. People hear only what they understand.

5. Everybody prefers to talk about things that are important to him or her.

4. Everybody, including my sweet old Grandma Jerry, approaches every situation with at least some concern about. "What's in it for me?"

3. People are easier to manage if you are friendly instead of bossy.

2. Everyone's number-one need is acceptance.

1. Everyone's number-one fear is rejection.

Think about why knowing just these ten things about people can start moving you in the direction of becoming one of those who gets it. Take trait four: Everybody approaches every situation with at least some concern about "what's in it for me?" If you come to appreciate that, then you are going to understand that if you want to persuade someone to do something, to think a certain way, or allow you to do a certain thing, you are going to have to figure out some way that there is something in it for them.

You may be surprised to hear me say that I believe all people are selfish. But I am just telling you how it is. I am just saying that if you understand these characteristics about the way we all act -- and if you understand the universal needs of another human being -- then you know how to make things happen. To ignore these "givens" about people would be the same as sealing your fate before you even begin. Failure is not an accident. You either set yourself up for it or you don't.


If you stay focused, and if you start applying the rest of the Life Laws, you will "get it." You will set yourself up for success.

You do not have to be the brightest person in the crowd, but you do have to be eager and tenacious. You have to decide that you will become one who gets it no matter what. You have to develop a quality of pushing through when the going is tough. You get it by working and trying harder, inch by inch.

You also must resolve to find out how you work from the inside out. I am talking here about making yourself a project. You have other proj0.ects at school, at home, or at your church or temple. What I want you to do is make yourself a project.

If you want to "get it," then it's time for you to begin. You become the jump start for altering your life and increasing its quality. I want to stress that these are learned skills. This is knowledge that must be acquired. Maya Angelou has eloquently said, "You did what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better." This and the next nine Life Laws will help you know better so that you can do better.

Congratulations! Whether you know it or not, you are already moving into the driver's seat of life. You are already setting the wheels of change into motion, which is one of the hardest parts of the process.

Now let's get you up to speed.

Copyright © 2000 by Jay McGraw

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Jay McGraw is executive producer of The Doctors, as well as president and CEO of Los Angeles-based Stage 29 Productions. He is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Ultimate Weight Solution for Teens: The 7 Keys to Weight Freedom; Life Strategies for Teens; and Closing the Gap: A Strategy for Bringing Parents and Teens Together. McGraw is a regular contributor on the Dr. Phil show and has also been featured as a teen expert on Larry King Live and the Today show. McGraw earned his law degree from Southern Methodist University and is a graduate of the University of Texas, where he received a BS in psychology. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Erica.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Touchstone (December 4, 2000)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9780743215466

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