Digital Coaching

May 11, 2015

Parenting is hard. Parenting a teenager and preparing them for the unstructured, unsupervised college life? Harder still. Our current digital world has kids always plugged in. Then, there are the frequent studies about the harm all of this is doing to their developing brains. Unfortunately you can’t just eliminate screen time as education is now integrating it into all aspects of school activities. It is no wonder that parents and kids alike are struggling to balance the power and the risks of our current digital world.

Technology, like most things in life, is contextual. It can be both a powerful tool for learning and the greatest impediment to that process. Unfortunately for parents, kids aren’t great at contextualizing. We know that their prefrontal cortex, responsible for executive skills, is continuing to grow and develop into their 20’s. This can leave you as a parent in the position of trying to impose practices such as turning off the Wi-Fi to mediate for your teenager.

Take these final few months to prepare your kid for the type of digital college life that no other generation has yet had to worry about.

The wrench in this approach is that many of these practices will not work when the student is away at college. Thus, it is important to take these final few months to prepare your kid for the type of digital college life that no other generation has yet had to worry about. Here are four suggestions that can help you get started on this uncharted path.

Take on a 'digital coaching' mindset

Make an intentional and declared shift from digital parenting to digital coaching. This switches the power of problem solving from you to your teen. In coaching, you trust that the client has all the answers within them but just needs to be asked the right questions. Rather than telling or lecturing, your role is to coach and guide them in exploring and developing their own options. The desire is to help them transition from an instruction follower to a problem solver. For parents, the hardest parts are suspending your urge to help develop the solution and not critiquing their ideas.

Use the power of pause to help your teen think deeply about their options

The core to good coaching is asking open ended questions that help the client, in this case your kid, think, struggle, process, and then commit to an action. The magic in getting them to dig deep is to use the power of the 3-5 second pause to draw out additional thoughts. Then, let your simple curiosity direct your follow-on questions always keeping 100% of the focus on your kid’s agenda. It will be tough, but don’t throw them a ‘suggestions’ life preserver as this actually disempowers them. If you’re looking for a place to start here are some possible questions:

  • You get to choose: What role do you want technology to play in your academic and social life? How will it help you reach your goals?
  • What do you think is going to happen when you no longer have external controls on how much, what, and when you can use technology?
  • What’s your plan for managing your digital usage? What systems and tools can you put in place to self-manage your technology and time?
  • How will you know if your digital habits are affecting your school work, sleep, or socializing with new friends?
  • What would motivate you to break away when you are caught in a digital rut?
  • What support do you want from others including us?
  • What are you learning about yourself?

Replace goals with well formed outcomes

  • After your kid has develop some ideas and approaches to managing their digital life, have them establish a few well-formed outcomes. The benefit of well-formed outcomes over goals is that the desired outcome is 100% within the control of the student.
  • For example, the goal of getting an A in a class can be influenced by the teacher, grading scale, fairness of the test and group projects. By contrast, a similar well-formed outcome could be that the student will begin studying 3 days before a test. If the test results are below what they want, they could alter their well-formed outcome to include making flash cards. Well-formed outcomes are empowering but also remove any escape clause for not taking action. Like Smart goals, they should also be specific, measurable, and timely.

Help your student make their time “visible”

  • Experts espouse that students who ‘see’ time tend to be better at self-regulating their behaviors. Mastering time awareness is critical in the unstructured environment of college. Options to make time visible include paper planners, analog clocks or using the Pomodoro timer system for studying. The better your student grasps how they are spending their time, the easier it is for them to alter their behavior.

Parenting a teen can be hard but I believe is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. With a little preparation and change of mindset, you can help your student successfully launch their college career. So stay strong and digital coach on.

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.

Written by

Debbie Lehr-Lee

Debbie Lehr-Lee is a certified Academic Life Coach who is passionate about working with students and their parents who are stressed out trying to manage the craziness of their school lives. She helps them find and strengthen their unstoppable core so that they can get their happy lives back and also get the good grades they deserve. She and her husband Harry used these insights to successfully navigate the parental roller coaster of raising three kids who are now living very independent lives doing what they love. In her practice, she has become increasingly concerned about the dangers of digital distraction in school and life and is committed to helping students and parents deal with these issues. To learn more visit or YourCollegeGameplan on Facebook.