Why I don’t coach teens
If you’re familiar with social media land, chances are you’ve encountered a fair few life coaches on your travels. Their niches are extraordinarily varied these days, supporting clients with everything from starting a business to recovering from divorce to managing a newly diagnosed neurodiversity. Life coaches can play a powerful role in helping people get to where they want to be (I should know, I’ve trained as one and worked with (adult) clients, and have experienced the incredible support of some excellent coaches myself), but I draw the line at providing life coaching to teens. Why’s that? What could possibly be the harm in cheering on a kid to reach their goals? Read on!
Let’s back up a little to start with. Did the title of this post feel confusing? Isn’t this exactly what I offer to teens and their families? No, it really isn’t.
There’s a major distinction between coaching and what I offer, which is mentoring. Coaching is goal focused, working towards achieving something the client has identified as important for them, and the coach’s role is to support and hold them accountable. Whilst coaching naturally provides some space for general chat about what’s happening in the client’s world right now, the endgame is to achieve that thing, move forward, make progress, do the homework, have some breakthroughs. Why would we not want that for our teens?
Here’s my thoughts. Having been a teacher for years, I see a whole lot of coaching happening (at often fairly high pressure levels) at school. It happens in the classroom, in sports, in the arts… you name it. There’s always an endgame. It’s about Performance. Whether it’s grades, a trophy, a competition or even being selected for a high performing group, teens are often surrounded by reminders to strive and do better. Of course we want them to maximise their potential (… whatever that really means…) But, it can be utterly exhausting. If you’re a parent or you work with kids, you’ve most likely seen plenty of this.
Chances are, your teen already has a few coaches in their life – and that’s great! They could be in the form of their teachers, group leaders, sports coaches and more. Generally speaking, and without getting into a battle over what form a child’s education takes, that’s a positive thing and somewhat necessary for development. What they don’t need is more of them.
Mentoring is different to coaching. The primary concern of a youth mentor is to meet the young person where they are at and support them with whatever is going on for them right now. Sometimes that can look like just chatting for an hour whilst taking a walk or throwing a ball around, and other times it can look like making a plan of action to get out of a sticky situation. It’s sometimes giving advice (when it’s requested), it’s sometimes just listening and letting them know you’re in their corner. It can be a bit of a cry-fest, and it can be a lot of laughs. The point is, these sessions are precious moments when the young person is the full centre of someone’s attention, when they can be themselves and not need to worry about performance. We ask so much of our young people these days that this time away from pressure is vital.
Many well meaning, wonderful parents are starting to seek out life coaches for their kids. If this is you, I’d ask you to consider what it is you’re wanting for your young person right now. Is coaching really the right fit? Do they need more pressure, a list of things to do for the next session to make progress, to perform better, all in the name of ‘getting their life in order’? (a deeply problematic question to be asking of a teen in my opinion!) And if you really still believe this is the way forward, please, please choose someone with experience working with teens. The needs of teens and adults are vastly different, especially in terms of the often dubious ‘self development’ world.
For kids, mentoring beats coaching hands down, and as both a qualified mentor and coach with plenty of teaching years under my belt, please trust me when I say I know what I’m on about!
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