In a sense, Brad Wilcox is still stuck in 1985.
Not that he has trouble connecting with the modern generation. Actually, the opposite is true.
It was in 1985 that a summer job became a career- and life-defining experience for the BYU elementary education graduate. Wilcox, who was teaching sixth grade in Provo, was looking for work during the summer months and decided to get involved with the youth programs at BYU.
"It changed my life," Wilcox said. "My life has never been the same. ... It just set me on a track that I've never looked back from."
Wilcox is one of the most popular youth speakers in Utah, but that's just part of his resume. He's also an associate professor of education at BYU, a traveling advocate for child literacy, the former president of the Chile Santiago East mission, and the author of five books and seven CDs. His most recent release, "Stay in the Lifeboat" (2008, Deseret Book), is the recording of a talk he gave at a youth conference at the invitation of his friend, John Bytheway.
Wilcox said that it's been a fascinating experience to see those he spoke to in the 1980s bring their own teenagers to hear him speak now.
"Kids that were teenagers in '85 are not teenagers anymore," he said. "It's kind of unique to see that circle happening."
The messages he shares have evolved somewhat with the times. For example, Wilcox recently wrote an article in the New Era on "texting," something that was way off the radar when he started addressing Especially for Youth groups.
What's remained constant, however, is his effectiveness in reaching the youths of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Wilcox isn't afraid to deal directly with sensitive topics. His published works include the titles "Sex Is Like an Apple: Don't Spoil a Good Thing," "Where Do Babies Come From?" and "Growing Up: Gospel Answers about Maturation and Sex."
"Some of my missionaries just laughed at the fact that their mission president had written a sex book," he said. "That's not a typical book that you would expect from a church youth speaker, and yet I was able to address issues in that book that haven't been addressed often. I think parents have appreciated that ... Parents and youth can kind of count on me to address these issues."
Wilcox said that whether he's speaking about morality or the House of Israel, he tries to make difficult things seem simple. But he's convinced it's not his humor or personal experiences that have kept him in demand as a speaker. And it's "certainly not good looks," he said.
Wilcox hopes that it's his heart that has made the difference, specifically his love for the principles he's teaching and the youths who are listening.
"I've learned that you have to be willing to speak and teach with passion," he said. "It has to be something that you care about. I speak about things that matter to me because I feel like they are important."
Wilcox feels that what he does following a talk is more important than what he says at the pulpit.
"If a speaker speaks and walks off, the walking away cancels out everything he's talked about," he said. "That's what we've got to communicate. They don't remember the words that were said. They haven't read my book. They don't know exactly what topic I spoke on. But they remembered that I paid attention to them and learned their name ... That's something that I value."
And above all, he's more than willing to tell the kids that they are loved."I try to say it for all the parents who just can't quite say it or for all the church leaders who feel it's not there place to say it," he said. "I'm going to say it for them, and I'm going to stand with them and I'm going to tell those kids that they are loved."
E-mail: [email protected]