Teenagers Don’t Need to be Parented — They Need to Be Coached

As a certified teen life coach, I can tell you why teens are coming to us with their problems — not Mom or Dad

A smiling father and daughter stand and talk next to each other while preparing for early morning hike.
Photo: Thomas Barwick/DigitalVision/Getty Images

GGot a teenager at home? I bet you’re on the struggle bus. Anxiety. Mood swings. Defiance. Lack of motivation. Teens are going through a lot, and the hardest part is, they don’t want to talk about it.

At least that’s how it appears. Of course they want to talk about their problems — they just don’t want to talk about them with you, their mom or dad. More and more Gen Zers are turning to me and other certified teen life coaches to share their thoughts and anxieties, find new perspectives, and feel less alone.

What is it that we do that so many parents don’t? We listen. Really listen. The well-trained teen coach understands kids’ realities, meeting their needs in a way that prompts dialogue instead of shutting it down. “A non-judgmental approach is needed so much more in this developmentally vulnerable stage,” says Leah Mazzola, PhD, the founder and director of Youth Coaching Institute, a youth life coach training organization. “The non-judgmental ear can make the difference between whether or not [teens] reach out for help when they’re struggling, and whether they get the support and guidance they really need when engaging in risky behaviors.”

When I tune in to what my clients are saying, they feel validated. They feel — basic need alert! — loved. And those good feelings draw them back to me for more of the same. So how can you create this sort of relationship at home? Borrow some of our strategies.

Start with a mea culpa

Teens spend much of their time being told what, how, and when to do things. If they fail to meet adult expectations, it’s made clear they’re doing life wrong. Counter that narrative with humble, self-reflective statements. Own your part and state that you’d like to interact with them differently. Fill in the blanks with your particulars: “I’ve realized I’ve been ______. I’m trying to learn a new way to _____.” Your kid will look at you with relief and hope.

Ask them what they need

Want some adolescent catnip? Seek to understand what they crave. Instead of assuming they want the same thing you did as a teen, ask open questions that leave space for their honest input.

Here’s an example of a closed question: “Do you want me to quit working out to spend more time with you? Do you need to see a counselor?”

Here’s an open question: “Are there things I do that you wish I wouldn’t? How can I best support you?”

Show you care, but don’t need to control

Make clear that while you want to hear your teen’s thoughts and feelings, you’re not trying to invade their privacy or steer their decisions. That open question trick invites your teen to share however much, or little, they choose.

Instead of: “But I thought you loved cheerleading?”

Try: “How are you feeling about cheerleading these days?”

Instead of: “You know you’re not allowed to go to parties where there won’t be any parents.”

Try: “Is this party an extra-big thing for you all?”

Instead of: “Why do you have a D in AP World History?”
Try: “Can you help me understand what goes on with AP World History?”

Listening like a coach isn’t easy. The ability to turn off your thoughts — to silence not only your criticism or judgment, but also your hopes and fears and suggestions — is a mighty feat. But doing so taps into your child’s developmental craving for autonomy and lets them drive their own outcomes. And in the end, your relationship will be better for it. Here’s a text that just came in from one of my coaching kids: “Had a nice talk with my mom. I’m in a good mood now.” I’m sure Mom is, too.

Award-winning author. Certified teen life coach. Fledgling optimist. As seen on CNN, HuffPost, NPR, CBS, ABC. www.cyndyetler.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store