Life Coaching for Teens
By Zainal Abidin Rahman B Sc, ACCA, MA (HRD)
NLP Trainer and Business Coach

Coaching is a rapidly rising new phenomenon. No, I don’t mean soccer coaching or basketball coaching or other forms of sports coaching which have been around for maybe hundreds of years. What I mean are life coaching, business coaching, executive coaching, performance coaching or other forms of coaching intended to help people achieve their professional or personal goals and dreams. These forms of coaching are intensively applied in the business world to support already successful managers, executives and professionals as they dared to challenge themselves even more.

Actually, all these latter forms of coaching were indeed inspired by sports coaching which works to help aspiring athletes achieve their goals of becoming world-class or simply better footballers, sprinters, golfers, etc.

During a life coaching session, you have a scenario in which a coach (usually an older more experienced guy) works with another person to help, guide, facilitate and empower the latter to achieve his or her goals, professional or personal.

Challenges facing teens
Will teens benefit from this type of coaching with all their uncertainties and insecurities? Sure, almost anybody can benefit from coaching. The teenage years are usually a phase of their life during which symptoms of emotional and relationship problems surface. Many may be traveling a rocky path to adulthood. Who am I? Where am I going? What do I really want? Young people spend a great deal of time pondering these and related questions in their quest for an identity. According to the famous psychologist Erik Erikson, establishing a sense of who they are is a major preoccupation of adolescence. With more choices in educational and career paths available to young people today there is often more confusion.

Just to summarize, these problems may include:
• Inability to relate to others - loneliness
• Anger and aggression
• Fear and avoiding change
• Conflicts
• Learning disabilities
• Attention issues
• Low motivation
• Avoiding responsibilities
• Melancholy ad depression
• Perfectionism
• Drug and alcohol abuse
• Gangsterism
• Lacking sense of identity

Teenagers are at a crucial time in their lives and often find it hard to talk to their parents and teachers. Through coaching, young people will have someone who will really listen to them, to act as their sounding board and to be fully present to them and to listen without judgment.

The important thing for teens to benefit from coaching is that they must possess the desire to want to improve themselves.

Coaching benefits
Some of the general benefits teens may derived from a well-constructed coaching program include:

• developing greater motivation for learning and studies
• gaining greater clarity on their life passions and dreams
• possessing more confidence in their own intelligence and talents
• developing a desire to interact with others
• becoming less self-conscious of their looks, voice, etc
• learning when and how to negotiate and compromise•
• learning to cooperate better in a team setting
• developing leadership skills and knowing when to project leadership qualities
• learning the skill of listening to others•
• feeling valued as a human being•
• respecting and appreciating themselves first. This is turn will allow them to mirror true respect and appreciation for others•
• reaching out to others in a more compassionate way•
• embracing and optimizing their life’s full challenges.

Coaching can be used in any setting and tasks in which teens wish to perform at a higher level of competence and proficiency.

Traditional Counseling vs. Coaching
So what are the differences between coaching and traditional counseling that most teens must be familiar with? Counseling usually wants to deal head-on with the problems or the causes of the problem. When, say, a persistent latecomer is counseled, the counselor would usually begin by identifying the root causes of the offence. He or she would normally concentrate on asking “why” questions: “Why are you always late? “Why can’t you wake up earlier?” “Why must you stay up late at night?” Then the counselor would advise the offender how the latter should deal with the various causes or reasons of the late coming. In this way, the counselor takes on the role of the expert – advising or directing what the teen should be doing in order to avoid coming late again. The counselor’s language is usually filled with must’s, should’s, ought to’s, or have to’s. “You must learn to be early to school.” “You ought to know what to do.” “You have to buck up.”

In counseling there is therefore some element of threat to the offender to change and improve. The tone of the conversation is more like an interrogation than a friendly chat. The counselor is also deemed to be the expert who knows what is ultimately good for the offender. There is a superior-subordinate relationship. I am happy to add that most modern day trained counselors have taken a less confrontational approach toward their charges, although the superior “You must listen to me and do what I tell you to do if you want to make something out of your life” attitude is still very much prevalent.

Coaching, including life coaching, is action-oriented, solutions focus, concentrating on forward future actions rather than dwelling on past mistakes and inadequacies. Coaching begins with the assumption that all people are creative, resourceful, and whole. When they don’t get the results that they desire it is because they are out of touch with their inner resources and life passion. It is therefore the task of the coach to help them get in touch with the necessary resources so that they return “back on track.”

Life coaching is not about providing the right answers to clients but about empowering them to look for answers for themselves and to encourage them to commit to make the necessary changes. Life coaching believes that people, including young people with any education, have the answers within themselves to deal with most of their problems. But they need someone who is unbiased to question, to challenge and to support them as they consider the options available and make the decision best suited to them. The life coach is to provide support, structure and honest feedback without tainting them with his own judgment. There is a lot of trust and engagement of their sense of responsibility and ownership.

Teen know thyself
Before doing a formal coaching, a good coach will usually help the client get to know his own true personality and natural inclinations as well as strengths and challenges. Getting the client to do an early assignment that is outside his or her comfort level could create frustration and rejection of the whole coaching process before they can taste the benefits of coaching.

Finding out natural strengths and challenges is usually done using a personality test. There are many personality tests available such as the DISC profile, Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Big Five and others. Teens should however be aware that some personality test systems are good in finding out “our type” after an hour or so of filling in a questionnaire - meaning how we will behave in certain circumstances but are not very helpful in terms of how we should work to develop our long term effectiveness and sense of well being. For this reason, although I am certified in several personality test systems, my favorite tool is the Enneagram.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is a modern powerful psychological tool derived from ancient wisdom describing nine basic personality types or styles. Many people claim it was derived from the practices of Sufi groups who indulge in self-reflection and self-evaluation (“muhasabah”) as a vehicle to reach out to the divine – illustrated in the saying “he who knows himself knows his Lord”. It lists out the inner motivations, thought patterns and basic beliefs of each of the nine personality types. It is a tool that answers our perpetual questions such as “Who am I?” “Why don’t I feel fulfilled?” “Why do I make the same mistakes again and again?” “How can I become my best self?” “How can I improve my effectiveness in my work and in my relationships?”

The Enneagram recognizes how human beings have sincerely different versions of reality. No version is presented as better than another, just different. Each style has its own strengths and talents as well as limits, pitfalls, and blind spots. Each style spells out how you are unique, and shows you your own personal roadmap to your better SELF.

The Enneagram does not put us in “boxes”, but rather show us which “box” we unconsciously and blindly put ourselves in. More importantly, it teaches us how we can move out of our “box” if we wish to. It points out to our higher capabilities – what we are good at, what creative resources are at our disposal when we are happiest and most awake. It is a major tool in living more fully in our day to day and future world.

The Enneagram is a system of psychology which is neither inherently esoteric nor spiritual. Many people, however, find that it has spiritual depth that helps them diagnose how they relate to their inner self and to the expression of that inner being. For this reason, the Enneagram finds itself a relevant place in the corporate world as it is in self awareness and spiritual programs.

Structuring a Coaching Session

Life coaches from different schools use different coaching model. One of the most common coaching model is called GROW (for Goal, Reality, Options, Wrap-up). I will briefly illustrate a typical coaching session using this model.

The model is a 4 step structure as follows:
1. Goal phase
• Coach and coachee agree on the specific topic and objective of the discussion during the session
• If appropriate, they will also set the long term aim of the coaching program.

2. Reality phase
• Coach will invite the coachee to do a self-evaluation as to where he or she is currently in relation to the aim of the coaching or objective of the session
• Coach will offer specific feedback and help coachee check assumptions
• Coach will help coachee see the true reality by discarding irrelevant history or data

3. Options phase
• In looking for solutions, the full range of options should be considered.
• Coach will invite the solutions out of the coachee and would be very careful when offering his own suggestions. What is good for the goose may not be good for the gander.
• Once both are satisfied that the full range of options have been considered and thought through, coach will ensure that coachee has made a conscious choice as part of the action plan.

4. Wrap-up phase
• Coach requests coachee to commit to the action plan within a specific time line
• Both will identify possible obstacles and consider how coachee could overcome them
• The action plan must be broken down into specific achievable steps
• They agree on subsequent follow up session

As you can see from the process, the coachee is as committed, if not more, as the coach in looking for a resolution to the problem. There is much rapport between them and the relationship is one of equals. The coachee becomes a more willing partner – the presupposition is that he or she has the intelligence, ability and character to achieve the goal once the steps are made clear.

Zainal is a business trainer and coach specializing in personal and organizational change. He has worked with thousands of clients, individuals and corporate, and brings with him expertise in OD, HR, NLP, ericksonian hypnosis, Solutions Focus, Appreciative Inquiry, The Enneagram, energy psychology and various other effective modalities that create change at the personal and corporate levels. Contact:

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