Disclaimer: I believe parent coaching helps to solve/resolve any parenting challenge, not only media-digital dilemmas–that’s why I created the Parent Coach Certification® Training Program in 2000. I was, and still am convinced, that a coaching process holds the key to unlock and activate parenting strengths leading to greater confidence and capabilities. Parent coaching, at its core, empowers and emboldens.
The impetus for developing parent coaching as a new form of family support, however, came from my deep desire to help moms and dads find more ease and enjoyment in their parenting in our media, now digital, world. Since 1985 I have been helping families, as I like to say, live productively with technology—rather than living mindlessly for technology. Way back in 1985—screen tech dark ages—when VCR’s were the rage and parents worried about how much time their kids were watching movies and TV, (happy problems in comparison to today’s woes) I came to this disturbing conclusion:
Either parents get the use of screen technologies right for their children—or their children can’t develop right. Society triumphs or crumbles according to how parents resolve media-digital dilemmas.
While parents can (and do) read books about controlling kids’ screen time, glean research from the Web, talk to one another and share sound ideas, and go to workshops and trainings for important information—all valid forms of seeking answers—parent coaching is a superior form of resolving media-digital dilemmas.
Here are five reasons why:
#1 Coaching is always personalized.
Because parent and coach are in a personal relationship, together they carefully craft every new idea or fresh approach based upon the unique needs of that particular family. Specific solutions are examined and explored always with the context of the entire family system—the specifics of the children’s ages, developmental levels, academic progress, motivation, as well as parental schedules, stresses, strengths, and past struggles, for instance. Each family is like a delicate snowflake—entirely its own beautiful design. Starting from there, coaching enables parents to consciously design a mindful plan that works well for their personal circumstances and unique needs.
#2 Coaching replaces “I should” with “I want.”
It’s become fashionable to tell parents what they should be doing. “Put that cell phone down.” “Don’t text when your kids are in the room.” “Remember, you are a model for your kids. You should know better and do better.” And on it goes, until many parents, like some of my clients, feel like complete failures when it comes to dealing pro-actively with their kids’ (and their own) digital dilemmas.
Over time, though, coaching reminds them that they don’t have to be vulnerable victims of our tech tsunami. And it’s actually reasonable to let go of any guilt or shame. It makes sense to do so to bring back the energy needed for momentum.
Once parents manage to do away with the “should’s” and focus on what it is they really want, a new world of clarity, freedom and huge relief awaits. I enjoy asking parents questions like:
- What is it that you really want for yourself? Your children?
- If you think about what you really want how would your children’s screen use change over the three months during our coaching process?
- When your child is an adult, what would you want his screen use to look like? Why?
Such questions propel parents back to their priorities. When free to choose from their deepest desires for what’s best for their children, parents often surprise themselves with the creative and sustainable ideas they initiate regarding screens in their children’s lives. I am delighted by these solutions, but never surprised. The inherent nature of the coaching process is all about “I want.” Never, “I should.”
#3 Coaching puts peers in perspective.
Digital peer pressure is real. A May 2014 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health examined the impact of social media posts on the behaviors of 1500 teens in Southern California and found that teens who viewed pictures of their friends partying were more likely to mimic the behavior by indulging in alcohol and smoking cigarettes themselves. The report even went so far as to say that virtual peers are even more influential than a teen’s real-life friends.
A Harvard Study examined 2,000 teens’ personal accounts, noting six major digital stressors effecting today’s teens:
- Receiving mean and harassing personal attacks
- Public shaming and humiliation
- Breaking and entering into accounts and devices
- Pressure to comply—digital peer pressure
- Feeling smothered—the pressure of keeping up with social media, especially with texting
While digital peer pressure is listed as one stress—we can see that all of them are related to social interaction with their peers.
Through a coaching process, parents begin to understand that even their rebellious teens want and very much need their guidance with these significant digital, daily stressors. Kids need time to talk to caring adults who can help them sort out how to cope with these pressures and still keep their friends. They need an adult’s discerning mind to ask questions so that the developing minds of teens can learn how to use digital devices and social media within the context of what is right for them, rather than what is best to fit in with their friends. And for sure, kids need parental love and understanding to grow autonomy and competence that will make them confident in their media-digital choices.
Social pressure from living in a high tech society can be addressed head-on when parents come to fully grasp the profound nature of their influence on their kids. I can communicate this to a group of parents listening to a two-hour presentation. But I can’t dig in with one parent to help them develop productive parenting strategies for digital–age teens, like I can in a coaching process.
Because every parent I coach becomes an engaged participant in the process, creativity flourishes, self-awareness deepens and media-digital dilemmas dissolve.
Often my clients must confront the adult peer pressure from their own friends—which they haven’t thought of in the same way before I started asking clarifying questions. But when they start seeing the similarities between their own uses of their devices and their kids’, well, look out! We both know we are in for a major breakthrough—and their kids will thank them, someday!
#4 Coaching helps parents appreciate their children’s gifts and talents.
In the parent coaching model I developed, we use Appreciative Inquiry as a foundation for our process. Beginning with discovery of strengths—in the parents, the children, the family—coaching gives parents the gift of understanding themselves and their children better before they begin to tackle any concerns.
Let’s face it, we can’t very well solve our problems from a position of weakness. In fact, the more we know about our unique strengths and harness them in the service of reaching our goals, the more efficiently we reach those goals. A mega-study of 847 publications about coaching, recently demonstrated that coaching is an effective way to change behaviors, improve attitudes, and reduce stress. With a focus on positive, qualities and traits, we can expect to make deeper gains, especially in the areas of self-awareness and self-efficacy.
With the overwhelming stresses digital dilemmas can bring parents, I noticed that they sometimes start seeing their children as problems. They don’t intend to turn their beloved child into a monster who needs taming—but sometimes they start relating to their child like that, forgetting the child’s vulnerabilities to a screen technology culture, missing his or her humanity because to problems looms so large.
Coaching helps parents uncover and amplify their children’s strengths. With a focus on what is positive, anything is possible.
#5 Coaching supports authentic relationships.
During coaching it becomes obvious that the quality of relationships is directly connected to outcomes. By learning to intentionally care more for their connection with their children than implementing any parenting strategy, they put first things first. As the parent-child bond deepens and grows, so do mutual understanding and openness. Compliance naturally occurs more frequently when children experience genuine parental concern, interest, and appreciation. The family can now co-construct a common purpose for establishing ground rules for screen technologies. Parents who put themselves front and center in their children’s lives soon discover better ways to address and resolve media-digital dilemmas.
Coaching encourages parents to practice “limbic resonance”—the phenomena of the parent’s and the child’s emotional centers in their brains coming together in alignment, bringing comfort and shared meaning to them both.
The writers of A General Theory of Love, one of the most important books on this subject, beautifully summarize the gifts of limbic resonance and the dire consequences without it:
“Only through limbic resonance with another can [the child] begin to apprehend his inner world. The first few years of resonance prepare [the child’s brain] for a lifetime’s use. One of a parent’s most important jobs is to remain in tune with her child, because she will focus the eyes he turns toward the inner and outer worlds. He faithfully receives whatever deficiencies her own vision contains. A parent who is a poor resonator cannot impart clarity. Her inexactness smears his developing precision in reading the emotional world. If she does not or cannot teach him, in adulthood he will be unable to sense the inner states of others or himself. Deprived of the limbic compass that orients a person to his internal landscape, he will slip though his life without understanding it.”
Through a coaching process parents come to experience the power of their own “limbic compass” first-hand. Growing their relationship with their child with the help of a coach, media/digital dilemmas gradually recess into the background. Coaching helps parent clarify priorities, making difficult digital decisions and actions do-able. Gradually, solutions replace struggles. Curiosity overcomes fear. Excitement for using screen technologies in the service of the child’s development overshadows anxieties.
By coaching parents, the screen world becomes a new world—a world of creative possibilities and interesting learning. I love introducing this new world to parents. Because when they know that world, they teach their children how to live in it, wisely and well.
Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.
A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, Vintage, 2001, p. 36.