For more than a decade, teen behavior specialist and motivational speaker Josh Shipp has been helping adults understand youths and youths understand themselves. In doing so, the Los Gatos resident often finds himself channeling his own traumatic life experiences.
Shipp was abandoned at birth by his 17-year-old mother and wound up bouncing around a variety of foster homes. He was abused, addicted and suicidal, so he knows what it means to be a teen in trouble.
Now, Shipp is bringing that experience to a gritty new unscripted TV series, "Teen Trouble." Each episode follows Shipp as he embeds himself into the lives of teens on dangerous, self-destructive paths -- taking drugs, stealing from their families, abusing alcohol and breaking the law. Along the way, he helps desperate parents while confronting their out-of-control kids with some cold, hard facts.
Shipp recently took some time to field some questions about his work and the show.
Q So what brought you to television?
A I've been approached many times about doing some kind of show. But all the pitches came off sounding like a "Jerry Springer"-type thing or exploitive or totally unrealistic. The producers for this show had my attention right from the get-go. They told me that they're just going to follow me around and not tell me what to say or do -- that they would just capture the experience, and that would be compelling enough.
Q But was there any concern about having cameras involved in the process?
A Actually, I was quite worried about that. I was concerned about the kids questioning my motives -- that maybe I was trying to exploit them. Teens tend to put up walls to begin with, so I thought that maybe the cameras would make it worse and they'd shut down.
Q But they didn't?
A I came to realize that the camera also has a lot of power. For example, kids involved with drugs and other destructive behavior often live in denial. They don't see themselves at their worst moments. They'll tell you, "I'm in control. It's not that bad. You're blowing things out of proportion." ... But now, they can see it for themselves. It's a huge wake-up call when they realize that, yes, they truly are out of control. The cameras were a surprise blessing.
Q How do you get these kids to change?
A First, I fast-forward to what I see as a possible rock-bottom moment for them. I had one kid go to a morgue and lie in a casket. For another, we simulated a funeral where they heard people speak about them in past tense. I had one spend a night in jail. ...
Q And then what?
A Then we give them a sense of hope. I'll have them meet someone who overcame drug addiction and went on to have a successful life. Ultimately, it comes down to: What life do you want?
Q What is the biggest mistake parents make with their children?
A A lack of consistency in their approach. The parents might make a lot of threats, but there's no follow-through. If you're not mean at times, life is going to be mean to them.
Q And no consistency means no direction.
A Right. In the kid's mind, you become a liar. If there's no consistency, he or she is going to say, "Why don't I just do what the hell I want to do?" There needs to be consistent encouragement and consistent consequences.
Q Do you have any other key advice?
A A kid has to want to change, or nothing is going to happen. And they need to find a passion in life. Then they have something to lose. My passion as a teen was baseball. I had to clean up my act or get kicked off the team.
Q When did you realize that you might be good at what you do?
A In high school, I was kind of a class clown. Most teachers saw me as an utter annoyance. But one told me, "I can see that you have a gift. When you speak, you hold the kids' attention." That was like an epiphany for me.
When: 10 p.m. Friday