Who can your teenager talk to when the pressures of school, peers and parents multiply? Teens face both an exciting and challenging time when growing up. More freedom and independence, combined with new choices and expectations can get pretty overwhelming. It should be no surprise that often the last person a teen wants to talk to is a parent.
Perhaps your teen will open up to a life coach. Fortunately for young people in and around Paris, there is a teen coach who listens attentively to their problems. American-born Jane Mobille has worked with adolescents in France for over two decades as a music teacher, educational admissions consultant and now as a life and career coach. Through private sessions or group workshops with peers, Jane encourages teenagers to speak their mind and make the best choices for themselves.
What does it mean to be a teen coach?
It means receiving messages like this: “You know what touched me last week… my daughter asked me if she could give your info to one of her classmates who is panicked about her future and choices. I knew at that point that she values what you did together.”
If teenagers won’t open up to their parents, how can you get them to open up and share their anxieties and questions about life?
As soon as teens believe that they can share without judgment, they feel safe enough to open up. I focus my listening and questioning on the teen, not on my own “wants” for him. Unlike a coach, parents have a real conflict of interest: we want certain things for our teens. We can project our own fears and disappointments on them; and we have trouble separating ourselves from them, so that their behavior can become our shame. One result is that parents too often judge their teens, leaving them no choice but to close down, for their own protection.
“All grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
How did you become a teen coach for teenagers living in Paris and beyond?
I enjoy teens and have spent time with them for most of my adult life, in musical theatre, and as a piano teacher, writer and coach. In the middle of all of this, I married a Frenchman and worked for 10 years in telecommunications in France and the US. We returned to Paris to raise our family, and I left telecom upon the arrival of our third child, eventually taking a part-time consulting job in MBA Admissions.
I presented hundreds of candidate files and never tired of reading about their lives. I reconnected with a desire I had as a young girl – to be like my yiayia (grandmother). People confided in her because she was someone who listened with interest and compassion to pretty much everyone. I commenced studies to become a certified life and executive coach. Today, I am not only a teen coach, I also coach managers and adults.
Do expat kids experience more difficulty in a French school system, which is reputably more academic and rigorous?
I know that expat kids coming from an Anglophone school system often find the transition to the French school system to be challenging because of the rigor, the hard grading, the long days, and the comparative lack of interactive learning opportunities. Parents can support their kids by staying positive and by encouraging them to focus on the new learning process and not grades. Those kids that furnish effort and focus, patience and an open mind, are able to adapt to and succeed in the French school system relatively quickly.
In fact, sometimes French kids have more difficulty with the French school system than expats, and this is because they are under even more pressure to succeed: most of them will not have the alternative option to study in English outside of France after lycée. Expat kids have something in which to compare the French approach, and they quickly figure out the pluses and minuses of their new and old school systems. French kids, on the other hand, only know the French system, and if they don’t fit in it can be devastating.
Every French student must face the “Bac”, a two-year set of exams that ends with a high school diploma. The Bac is often seen as gruelling, high-pressured, high-stakes rite of passage for teenagers. How do you prepare teenagers for that?
Expat parents need to trust that the rigor of the French school system has adequately prepared their teen for the Bac, and by projecting confidence rather than fear, their teen will feel more confident. In fact, in 2015, 87.8 percent of those who sat for a Bac exam passed. For a teen that studies regularly and who takes advantage of the many vacations to revise as well as relax, preparing for the Bac is quite manageable.
Of course, there are students that have fallen behind. If, as early as 4ème, your teen is not putting in a reasonable effort to succeed at school, seek to understand why. Are past learning gaps causing your teen to feel overwhelmed by the material? Is your teen unable to self-regulate? Spending too much time on his screens and too little time on his lessons? Is there a learning, medical, substance, or emotional issue? Figure it out, and get your teen the support she may need.
It is critical to put in place an environment and structure at home which enables studying. This can be a time consuming, thankless, and relentless task, I know, but it works. Finally, when things improve, don’t forget to acknowledge your teen for taking responsibility for her future, especially if the improvement in grades lags behind the increase in effort. Reassure your teen: Rome wasn’t built in a day!
What about French high school life and extra-curricular activities? How much does social life play on a teenager’s well-being?
There are nine types of intelligences, or “smarts”: Naturalistic (Nature), Musical, Logical-Mathematical, Existential, Inter-personal (People), Bodily-Kinesthetic, Linguistic, Intra-personal (Self), and Spatial (Pictures). School hones in on certain intelligences, extra-curricular activities on others. Teens experience well-being when they engage in activities in which they are both talented and interested. Extra-curricular activities are especially important for those who do not experience well-being at school.
Human beings have a basic psychological need to feel closely connected to others – this is especially true for teens in the midst of the insecurity of identity development. Teen social life is a laboratory for learning to form personal relationships, figuring out group dynamics, and experiencing inter-personal joy and pain. It is a key stage in the development of social resilience and well-being.
How can a parent tell if his or her teen needs coaching?
Nobody “needs” coaching; however coaching can be valuable for a teen that is having trouble implementing a “want”, or making a change. Coaching offers the opportunity for accompaniment and accountability, backed up by non-judgement, benevolence and confidentiality. Some typical teen “wants” are to study more regularly, feel less angry, get along better with a sibling or parent, be more at ease socially, manage a fear, and believe in himself. Working with a coach can make a powerful difference for a teen.
You offer unique teenage workshops. How does that work?
Yes, I offer half-day workshops, in both small group and one-on-one formats. “Who are you?” is a first foray into personal development, where teens look at what in life has touched both their head (intellect) & heart (emotion). Their answers help them to articulate their strengths, passions, and motivation, and discover their core values and personal charisma.
“Writing your Personal Statement ” prepares teens to write a compelling personal statement for their US or UK university applications. In both workshops, interactive activities stimulate reflection around academic, extra-curricular, and “life” experiences. With the self-knowledge gained from my workshops, teens can begin to imagine their very real possibilities for a fulfilling post-secondary school experience.
Can you share a success story with us?
I worked with a 15-year-old teen who was humiliated in gym class and endured subsequent teasing and bullying. His grades fell sharply, he isolated himself socially, and he developed physical anxiety. His parents had no clue as to the cause of his change in behavior.
At the start of our coaching, this teen was fairly inexpressive, but we built trust. Then we had the breakthrough: he told me about what happened in gym class. I listened without judgment and asked questions so that I could understand the impact it had on him. I mirrored back what he was showing me – that he was a sensitive person – and pointed out that this is what allows him to be a fine artist. (He had shown me his drawings.) I acknowledged his courage in sharing his story with me.
Over the next sessions, we explored the motivations of bullies, and the ways he could choose to react. In parallel, we engaged in classic coaching activities aimed at building self-esteem and learning to live in the present. We saw each other over four months – about 20 hours. He was like a flower whose petals opened a bit each week, and then exploded into a riot of color and texture. He began to define his own identity at school, and things got better and better.
He finished lycée with a Mention on his Bac and a spot in his school of choice. Soon after I ran into him at the grocery store on his way to a rock concert with what looked like a great girl. He was glad to see me, but hardly had time to talk. I couldn’t have been happier.
Many expat families struggle to understand the French educational system. How do your bicultural teenagers fare in it?
My teen boys attended a French Catholic primary school, which was remarkably committed to educating the whole child. Both spent years in orthophonie, and their teachers engaged doggedly with them, asking them to redo work over many a vacation. I made sure to meet with their teachers at the start of each school year – which helped me to understand the system and the teachers to understand my children’s needs.
The switch to a public collège with international sections was not easy; teachers didn’t want to hear excuses, but they did care. It takes some kids longer to develop the fundamental skills needed to succeed in school – especially in France, where long days demand the kind of focus my boys couldn’t offer until they hit their teens. I am happy to say that both are now thriving in 3ème and 1ère. Honestly, many times it felt like a miserable slog for both my kids and me, but now they have a work ethic, the start of a terrific culture générale, and resilience. (And I have learned French grammar.) It has been worth it.
Jane, what do you like to do with your teenagers in Paris…if they’ll still hang out with you at their age?
What we like to do in Paris is walk around a great neighborhood on a nice afternoon, just being part of it. Then we eat. The boys like typical French bistros that have things like steak tartare, frites, and moelleux au chocolat. Over dinner they like to discuss things we saw that day, the way people act, and current events; they also drive me crazy with their “boy” stuff. They love it, of course, when their father and older sister can join us.