Ask Dr. Allen: The parent as a coach, or whose kid is this?

The Palos Verdes Estates shoreline from Bluff Cove. By Jefferson Graham

How many parents have asked themselves, “Who is this person living with me? They’re like strangers! They’ve become someone else. I don’t even recognize them.”

After puberty, kids change. They are flooded with hormones that awaken their DNA. They feel more than they have ever felt. They think thoughts they haven’t thought before. Their mind goes to new places. They can have swings of moods that are bigger than ever before. They are now on the large roller coaster And so are you, as the parents.

And what can we do on a roller coaster but go for the ride. You can’t control the height, turns, speed, direction, but you can hold on tight and make sure you stay secure in your position.

You can look ahead and see what’s coming. You may not like that there is another sideways turn coming or another loop but you can hold on tight and be strong and not freak out. Some people also let go, relax, and go for the ride.

Let’s say you had an exchange student in the 10-15 age range visiting from another country. They’re going to live with you for a year or longer. You wouldn’t assume they would do everything the way you do. You’d realize they have different habits and customs.

We would spend more time observing, maybe asking questions and seeking to understand the kid/teen. Likewise, with your child, your goal is to seek to figure out who this person is becoming. Who is this emerging young adult who is living in your home now?

As our kids go through puberty and into teen years, they are becoming a different person. Yes, they’re the same kid whose diapers you changed. The same kid you fed when they couldn’t do anything for themselves. But it’s not realistic to assume they will be like you. You have shaped them as they grew up and they still have many years of formation ahead. The human brain isn’t fully developed until age 25. So there are many years to go. 

Often, what a teen cares so much about one year is not important to them the next year. They are constantly changing. Trying out new ideas, stretching their wings, and beginning to fly.

It’s okay for them to be themselves and different from their parents. They will likely have plenty of similarities with your family. I am suggesting to have the position of asking and seeking to discover who they are becoming. To do this, you’ll need to change parenting from being on top of your kids’ decisions and ideas and move to being more parallel with them, as you both go through their teens years. Guiding towards strengths and overcoming challenges

Kids still need guidelines, which provide structure for their life. They still need to be held to the standards of a good work ethic while enjoying life and respecting others, especially adults. 

Together you can discover what they are good at, what their strengths and vulnerabilities are. Strength wise, they should be put in situations where they can excel. They’ll naturally be good at their strengths; competency will lead to confidence as they find what they are good at and then become secure in their place in the world.

Together you can also identify what their vulnerabilities are. What do they struggle with? Next identify and find three to four coping skills they can practice. The goal is to not let these challenging areas undermine their life and future. It is the parents’ responsibility to find what these areas are and seek to help your kid cope better. This doesn’t mean avoiding life but instead being be able to face challenges and overcome deficits or weaknesses, and become successful in these areas.

They need to learn to deal with setbacks, disappointments, failure and not winning all the time. My father used to say that participating in sports is one of the best ways to train for real life.

In sports, not everyone wins. In fact, we usually lose as often as we win. Even if our team wins a lot, there are still many things we could have done better. Learning to face these setbacks and overcome them and improve the next time we perform is crucial to being a competent trusted teammate and competitor. 

Often we make our kids’ lives so protected that while seeking help to avoid disappointment they become weak in real life. Kids need to be encouraged to face their fears and challenges and get back up when knocked down. These lessons need to be learned while they are living in the safe, protected environment of your family. Families are much safer and caring than the real world. So families are the best place to fail in, mess up, try again and learn to overcome our deficiencies. 

Observe, discover, and release kids into their passion and purpose of their lives.

You are their coach, as well as a loving parent.


Dr Greg Allen is a therapist practicing in Palos Verdes Estates and San Pedro. He’s the Director of two youth nonprofit organizations: Freedom4U ( and Hearts Respond (your

Freedom4U will host a fundraiser for its youth programs Thursday, April 25, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at La Bocca Felice restaurant, 301 W. 6th St., San Pedro.  For more information visit ER


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