By Jotham Busfield, MSW, LICSW
High school can be one of the most challenging times in a person’s life.
Physical changes are taking place. There is an increasing level of difficulty and pressure with academics. Social complexities start to emerge. The quest to figure out who they are or want to be begins. College is on the horizon, and the brain has not finished developing (brain regions that handle organization, planning, and impulse control don’t fully develop until the mid 20’s).
Students may understandably struggle during this time to balance everything and manage their emotions. Grades may dip, and the solution often sought out is tutoring. Seems logical enough, grades are low and need to be pulled up, so working with someone on studying more will improve that, right? Well, sometimes, and sometimes maybe not.
One intriguing alternative to tutoring is working with a Coach, ideally one who is also trained as a mental health clinician, and here are seven reasons why:
Accurate Assessment of the Goal (Zoomed out)
Two of the more common concerns parents of high school students have are:
- Dropping grades
- College Planning
A possible solution for #1 is working with a tutor, but that may only be the solution a small fraction of a time. Out of any ten students with grades that are dropping, how many are experiencing this decline due solely to not grasping the material? For those students, a tutor is ideal! But for a lot of other students, dropping grades are the RESULT of another problem, not the problem itself. The actual problem can often be poor time management or questionable priorities, most likely stemming from difficulty focusing, or low motivation. Low focus and/or motivation can often be the result of a general struggle with handling emotions, ineffective coping strategies for life stress, low self esteem, and possibly even depression or anxiety. When viewed from this perspective, would working with a tutor be the answer? It is important to accurately assess what the REAL problem is, and the right Coach can do that.
For #2, guidance counselors are often the first resource, and an important one at that! It is important to note however that a guidance counselor is only one person, and they are responsible for working with a very large number of students at any one time, which can limit their availability. Another resource involves the parents themselves doing a lot of the heavy lifting with the college process, which can work, but can also lead to increased parental stress and vanishing limits, where one parent takes on too much, often at the expense of the student. There are some underrated perks of going through the college process, namely the student’s emerging autonomy, self-awareness, and accountability. When a parent is left to do a lot of the work and decision-making, this can limit those perks coming to fruition, which can negatively impact a student in the long run. A good Coach will ensure that those perks are central to any college planning process.
It is important to understand the real issues a student may be facing, identify appropriate goals, and maximize the benefits a student can gain from the process (autonomy, awareness, accountability, and a vision for the future). The right Coach can help the student craft this vision.
Motivation is vital when it comes to setting and accomplishing goals. Coaching incorporates a focus on increasing motivation from the beginning, which is often a unique process for each client (depending on what their starting place is). Tactics that increase motivation are only one part of the puzzle. Tapping into what DRIVES each person is the key, because once a student knows that they can access this driving force more easily moving forward, through college and beyond.
If a student has declining grades or is avoiding the college planning process, and a parent arranges for them to work with a tutor, it could trigger some difficult thoughts and emotions. Maybe they think their parent thinks they’re stupid, or even worse they may think that of themselves. Something similar can happen if therapy was the parental suggestion, where a student may think their parent is in effect calling them “messed up” or “crazy.” With a Coach, students are often much more open from the beginning about the work that lies ahead and less likely to judge themselves or their parents’ intentions in a negative light. This can lead to faster results because the path to “buying in” is shorter.
Proactive (not reactive) Scope
The right Coach will be proactive in their approach, identifying goals related to emotional intelligence and other topics that will help a student in the moment, while also ensuring stability and success down the road. Key skills related to self-awareness, personal command, and social intelligence are often more integral to future success than standard IQ or book smarts. These skills can be learned through challenging life experiences, but why wait for trial by fire? Being proactive and learning BEFORE a challenge happens is even more valuable than waiting and learning the hard way.
We often wait too long to work on the behavioral, emotional, social, and psychological aspects of life, until something serious happens. Most of the time, a student may not have a diagnosable mood or anxiety disorder, but may be battling with difficult emotional realities and could benefit from learning about emotions, effective coping strategies, human behavior, and healthy relationships. A Coach can weave these elements into more academically driven goals, which creates an overall increase in autonomy. Autonomy is about accountability, commitment, decision-making, and understanding oneself in relation to the outside world. A healthy sense of autonomy can prove helpful during challenging life events and transitions.
Cultivating healthy relationships is an important component of success and happiness. No one is truly independent, nor should we strive to be. Social isolation is directly linked to poor health outcomes and humans rely on social interaction to move through life in a positive way. For collegiate and career goals, who you know can often be as or more important than what you know. A good Coach will make healthy relationships an important focus, exploring skills related to interaction and effective communication.
Reduced Parental Stress!
When a student works with a Coach, it takes pressure off the parent!
These days, both parents are usually working full time jobs, and even in households where only one parent works, the other parent is usually juggling numerous other responsibilities. In single-parent households, one parent wears all the hats. Why add to that stress even more by trying to play tutor, guidance counselor, coach, and therapist at the same time? Self-care for parents is vital to their personal happiness AND their effectiveness as a parent. Additionally (and as mentioned earlier), taking all of this on as the parent is not always good for the student, as it can prevent them from building a sense of autonomy.
High school can be an extremely difficult time for a student, especially as the college planning process starts to unfold. Balancing the academic, athletic, social, and emotional components can often be too much for one person to handle, especially at a time when the brain has yet to fully develop. A Coach, especially one who is also trained as a mental health clinician, will identify the most important goals to work on, while cultivating strengths, skills, and a sense of autonomy.
Reduced stress for the parent, and a student who is successful and happy, what could be better than that?
Jotham Busfield, MSW, LICSW is a Co-Owner, Coach, and Clinician at Think-diff Institute in Lexington, MA (www.think-diff.com)
 Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam.