Teen Coach: Stupid is as Stupid Does

Teen Coach: Stupid is as Stupid Does

parenting teens
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Etiez-vous un élève sérieux?” It can be difficult for you, if you expect the same of your child. But you mustn’t. Expect the same, that is.

I remember it like yesterday – my daughter was in CP (first year of primary school) and playing the role of a clown in a little end-of-the-year play. She said her line, and then seemed to purposely fall into a chair, knock it over, and land on her rear with her feet swinging in the air, happily laughing. Her classmates joined in heartily. The parents watched, slightly amused. I showed nothing on the outside, but inside I was mortified that she had done something so “stupid”.

It was more than two years later that my daughter’s CM1 teacher asked the question, and it hit a nerve. “Etiez-vous un élève sérieux?” It was my wake up call.

Dear readers, how many of you have a vision of how you would like your teen to be? If your teen is lucky, you ditched that vision somewhere in primary school. Yet even if, on an intellectual level, you want to give your teen the space to grow into the person she is meant to be, your heart may not be able to follow through.

It is often the little things that trip us up the most: like black nail polish, or a hoodie worn with the hood up; or it could be jeans that are too tight, too ripped, too loose, or too low. It could even be a pair of sneakers.

Yes, sneakers. Sneakers are important. Sneakers, trainers, baskets…call them what you wish, but do take a long look at your teen next time you see him in his favorite pair of sneakers. You may have to stop thinking about how he bugs you, and instead think about what his sneaker choice shows you.

parenting teens: vans
Photo courtesy of author

The free-spirited, fun, hipster (stupid) teen

She rides a longboard. Her favorite sneakers are lace-up Vee3 Vans in a middle blue, faded, with holes, and silly doodles in pen on the rubber side soles. Négligée according to her papa. “Just me” according to daughter. When the two shop together, they come home empty-handed (everything daughter liked, papa said was nul).

The tough “grab the brass ring” bling (stupid) teen

His white high-top Adidas are accented with blue…and fluorescent orange. He found them on sale himself on internet. He lifts weights most days, checks himself in the mirror, talks a big game to his many friends, and isn’t afraid to throw a punch. Nor is he beyond a good lie to get around a “no” from his mom.

parenting teens: sneakers
Photo courtesy of author

The “would rather spend my day in sweats” (stupid) teen

“Dad, those are terrible shoes that Paul has. Why did you let him buy them?” Those were a daughter’s words in response to a photo of her brother in sweats wearing a new pair of sneakers. In fact, his dad had suggested spiffier and more fashionable models, but Paul stuck to his choice – a plain, comfortable pair of trainers in royal blue and white.

Be your teen’s (intelligent) hero

All of which brings us to Forrest Gump and his mother. Movies are movies, but still, Mrs. Gump should be every teen’s hero. Forrest’s favorite sneakers as a teen would certainly reveal him as the “slow-witted and big hearted” (stupid) teen. His mother does something intelligent: she accepts his slow-wit as something neither good nor bad. She often tells Forrest: “Stupid is as stupid does”. Urban Dictionary says: “‘Stupid is as stupid does’ means that an intelligent person who does stupid things is still stupid. You are what you do.” Mrs. Gump wants Forrest to know that a slow-witted person who does intelligent things is intelligent. As a result, Forrest has self-esteem.

parenting teens: having funChances are that your teen isn’t as slow-witted as Forrest. Then again, chances are that some of the things your child does are stupid. The trick is to encourage him or her to do intelligent things, while serenely giving the space to be what your child naturally is. Warning! If you haven’t yet learned the trick, you may be doing something stupid – undermining your teen’s self-esteem by squashing his natural essence.

Want to become your teen’s hero? Replace the “stupid” in “stupid is as stupid does” with the word that represents the thing about your teen that his favorite sneakers may show you. That teen who wears the light blue Vee3 Vans, well, she can still make the whole class laugh. And that isn’t stupid – that is a gift. “Fun is as fun does”.

Reflecting upon your teen’s favorite sneakers may be what is needed for your heart to reconnect with your teen, freeing him to flourish as that person he is meant to be. And by honoring and managing positively your teen’s unique natural essence, the chances are she will do intelligent things, and make you proud, indeed.

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An accredited Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Jane Mobille counts almost 3000 hours coaching executives, managers, teams, and individuals from 45 countries. Her clients have benefited from her sensitivity, cross-cultural savvy, and corporate experience to successfully transform their performance, leadership, and lives. Since 2015, Jane has coached over 100 Executive MBA and Executive Education participants at Kedge Business School. She leads seminars in leadership and communications for HEC Paris, Ecole Polytechnique Executive Education, and Kedge. Previously, Jane served as VP Corporate Communications for France Telecom (Orange) and trained as a classical pianist. Born in Washington, DC, she lives just outside of Paris with her French husband and has raised three children. For INSPIRELLE, Jane has penned a number of articles inspired by her work coaching young people, and is is the editor of AAWE’s quarterly News magazine.


  1. Given that a frequent source of conflict with offspring at home is a “messy” (ahem) room, this episode as well may be of interest to readers. My feeling has always been that there’s no point ordering kids to do anything. They have to have some personal motivation, especially when they are teenagers. One day I hit on the perfect solution for my 15 year old. I told her that if she cleaned out her closets, I would make a quilt out of all her favorite t-shirts that she’d outgrown. Within 24 hours closts, drawers, room were tip top clean, and she had added favorite socks to the pile. I hand appliquéed them onto an old linen sheet from my in-laws and made it into a quilt cover. From then on, she kept her room clean.

  2. Nice article, Jane. It reminds me of what my daughter did as a young teen when we couldn’t find sneakers/ sports shoes she liked. We bought a pair of white ones because she had to have something. The next day, she came happily to breakfast wearing them: she had taken magic markers and colored orange and red flames coming off the soles so it looked like she was running on fire. All the kids wanted her to paint their shoes, too…

  3. Thanks for the reminder that sometimes we let ourselves judge our teens based on our own criteria, which may be very different from who they are, and who they want to be.


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