Coaching can be thought of in two ways. One is a profession or vocation; the other is a type of conversation. In both cases, the person in the role of coach helps the other question their view of their situation to open new possibilities.
An emerging parenting method that is particularly useful with teens is called “Parent-as-Coach.” Using this approach, you can help your teen discover new possibilities by integrating coaching principles into your day-to-day conversations with them.
So, what is coaching fundamentally? It is a type of conversation based on the idea that all humans are learners but sometimes need a guide. In that sense, it is similar to teaching or mentoring. It differs from traditional teaching because coaching focuses on creating a context in which your teen will learn about themselves and how they see the world. So, it isn’t teaching how we might impart information or concepts about literature. It is distinct from mentoring in that the primary source of discovery for your teen is a new awareness of how they see and interpret the world and not your experience.
Counseling and therapy are yet more distinct. These were originally based on a doctor/patient relationship or medical model. The patient had an illness, and it was the doctor’s role to cure the patient. On the other hand, in coaching, there is no presumption that your teen is incapacitated or ill. It is always a learning conversation that aims to help your teen shift their view of themselves or the world. Coaching gives them access to new choices, which may lead to different (and better) outcomes. Because it is all about learning, coaching doesn’t carry the stigma of counseling or therapy. Most teens find coaching a non-threatening intervention, so they are more comfortable engaging in the process.
Undoubtedly, although you may not be aware of it, you already have conversations with your teen that follow the coaching model. I remember a conversation with my grandmother when I was 15 and living with my grandparents for the summer. I had gone out after work with my cousins and got home at 3 or 4 a.m. My grandparents greeted me curtly when I arrived, and I remember my grandmother saying, “Tonight, I have gone through the same kind of worry I had while raising my eight children, and I am just too old to do it again.” That night, the way I saw the world changed. I discovered what I now consider the emotion of shame, triggered by my awareness that I was breaking a rule of the household. I had an uncomfortable feeling earlier in the evening that I was doing something wrong, but everything crystallized at that moment. She never said I did anything wrong; she never said I broke a rule, and she never again referred to that night.
Although it was just ‘her way,’ now I realize that my experience was that of an impactful coaching conversation. She helped me see the world differently, which produced the possibility of different choices and different outcomes. The idea of coaching is not to step out from your traditional parenting role entirely. Instead, you can switch into a coaching role to help your teen pause, reflect, and gain new perspectives.