Parents, Stay in Your Lane when Helping Teens Make Big Life Decisions!

Karla Lester, M.D. guides parents by asking: let's help our teens make life decisions from a place of self-love, self-worth, and self-compassion.

“Help me to help you!”

Remember that line from Jerry Maguire when Tom Cruise’s character pleaded with Cuba Gooding Jr.?

I’m not a huge fan of Tom Cruise, but I remember thinking he was hilarious in that scene.

That Tom Cruise can sure get pumped up, whether it’s in a movie, performing all his own stunts (doubt it) or jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch.


Are you an over-function parent? I am.

With good intentions, I get triggered with an urge, like an itch I must scratch, to fix and solve.  My problem is I get out of my lane as a parent and into my teen’s business.

Byron Katie again: when I get out of my business and into my teen’s business, who is tending to my business? No one. It takes tending to our business to show up as a loving and supportive parent for our teen.


With good intentions, I get triggered with an urge, like an itch I must scratch, to fix and solve.


I was just coaching a teen, Andrea (not her real name), who’s been planning on going to college.

Andrea’s been excited about it all along and some of our coaching has been weighing the pros and cons of her different college options.


You may be wondering why I am coaching her on life stuff when I coach parents and teens on health and weight.

It’s all part of it.

We need to stop separating it out and instead, start looking at our whole lives.

Andrea has the health goal of being a mindful intentional eater.  I’ve coached her on the five components of body positivity: Reclaim Health/Intuitive Self-Care/Cultivate Self-Love/Declare Your Own Authentic Beauty/Build Community.

Basically, she’s a natural.  Andrea’s been doing “the work” of personal inquiry for nearly nine months working with me and she also has a rock star life coaching brain.

What does that even mean?

She has curious awareness of her thoughts.

Teens are better at this than we are, just so you know.


Many months ago, Andrea decided on her future-self guide words: Purposeful/Limitless/Exploring

Even with all that, it’s so normal for Andrea to indulge in overwhelm and question decisions she’s made the closer she gets to putting pen to paper.

In other words, we’re all humans with human brains on a human journey.  Things can get messy up in there.


We’re all humans with human brains on a human journey. Things can get messy up in there. Click To Tweet



Things changed for Andrea during our recent coaching session.

“I’m sick of learning.  It’s constant.  I’m already burnt out.  I know it’s senioritis.  I don’t want to keep doing the same thing when I go to college.”

She’s thinking of her options like taking a gap semester or year, going to community college, or working for a while and saving some money.

So, what’s the problem? Sounds reasonable to me.

Here’s what’s coming up for her:

“I’m letting my parents down if I don’t stick to my original plan.” 

Spoiler alert:  She just graduated and has made her decision.  Keep reading.



It’s helpful to create awareness with compassionate curiosity of what’s going on with her thoughts.

If you’re a parent or a doctor or even a teen, reading this, start by asking the teen or yourself powerful questions to get you out of the “how” and into the “why”!


  • What makes you believe college will be the same as high school?
  • Why is taking a break a problem?
  • Why do you have to decide right now?
  • What are you making this one decision mean?
  • What if college is totally different? Is that possible?
  • What’s your dream? What do you want to do?
  • What if there is no perfect decision?
  • What if there are no what ifs?
  • What if you decided, owned it, and had your own back? What would that feel like?



Next, tease out her parents’ voices and hers.

I happen to know both of her parents well and could have just said, “I know your parents will help you and you’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

I coach with curious compassion and as Andrea is potentially headed off to college, a lazy invalidating coaching approach wouldn’t be helpful to her when she’s making her future decisions.

Life is full of all kinds of daily decisions and choices.

For teens, what class to take, whether to try out for the basketball team, try for a role in the school play, to ask someone out, to go to the dance or stay home, whether to post on social media, and whether they want to cancel diet culture and make some healthy changes, are but a few of the decisions teens are faced with on the daily.


Next, coaching Andrea, remember your future-self guide words and embody her now to help you make the decision.

Tell your teen: There are no wrong decisions.

Like your reasons for deciding.  Decide not to decide for now.  Recognize when you are indulging in overwhelm and take a pause. One powerful decision creates clarity for other decisions. Practice self-compassion.  Practice self-care. Don’t should yourself. You can always re-decide if you want.

Tell your teen: There are no wrong decisions. Like your reasons for deciding. Decide not to decide for now. Recognize when you are indulging in overwhelm and take a pause. Click To Tweet


Thoughts create feelings, which drive actions and results.



Here’s a new thought Andrea decided on that she believes serves her:


“I’m open to considering all options for the fall.”

This thought drove a feeling of curious and she instantly felt unstuck, from which she created an action plan.

Andrea started with the result line.

She wanted to have her decision made by a certain date.

Then, she created the action plan to sit down with just her parents and discuss her options. 100% of her result came from her thought she chose and not from the neutral circumstance, college decision deadline of May 1st.


Tell your teen: There are no wrong decisions.


Now that Andrea had her thoughts and results in place, what were the obstacles in her way?

There’s also a lot of practicality coming up with COVID, financials, big things going on in the world and what I call beautiful listening to herself internally.


Here are some specific obstacles in the way that Andrea listed:


  • Feeling depleted/Financials/COVID/Losing friendships she’s made in High School
  • Are these real obstacles or are they coming from her thoughts that her brain keeps choosing to stay attached to?
  • Self-doubt, fear of failure, lack of confidence is going to bubble up whenever you consider taking massive action in your life. There’s nothing going wrong.


Could Andrea turn her list of obstacles into strategies?

As she has senioritis and is feeling depleted, she could do a thought or belief upgrade, like: “Feeling depleted is a sign that I’m ready for something new.”


Here are some belief upgrades for the other obstacles:

“The cost of college is part of my decision.  I am not making this decision alone and will have all of the information I need.”

“I don’t control COVID and I trust myself to adapt as I need to.”

“I’m sad about not being around my friends as much as I was in high school.  They’re the best.”


What do I want? What’s my dream? Envision my future self-living out my dream.

All I must decide on is my next best step to get me to my dream.


For teens, create some neutral boundary setting statements when talking to your parents about decisions.

Don’t cancel us though.  We love you and are here to help.


Who’s in the room where it happens?  You and your parents?


  • Don’t decide from a negative head space.
  • Never convince yourself.
  • Align with your vision (dream) and your values.
  • Be okay with discomfort. That means you are taking action.
  • Deciding is taking massive action.
  • Sit with it for a few days after you decide.


How does it make you feel internally?


Dr. Karla self-coaching: When I decide, but then a few days later, feel tired thinking about it, I re-decide.

I know I’m never stuck.

I don’t worry about disappointing other people anymore.

I want to make sure I don’t disappoint myself.


For parents:


  • Don’t pressure your teen.
  • Be okay with no decision.
  • Don’t panic and make a quick decision.
  • Don’t bring your journey into it.
  • Don’t give action steps and expect them to follow them or make it mean your teen is disrespectful when they don’t.
  • Don’t have scarcity of opportunity to love and support your teen.


Are you a completionist?

I think I made this word up.  I believe it’s a thing.

Parents really like to be helpful and then be done with that and move on.


Are you a completionist? I think I made this word up. I believe it’s a thing. Parents really like to be helpful and then be done with that and move on. Click To Tweet


We’ve closed the door, so why are you questioning it?

We can’t fix and solve or cause or control all the things, but we can decide how we want to show up and where to put our attentional focus as a parent.

Just decide with intention ahead of time how will you feel showing up.  Loving and supportive? Curious? Compassionate? Calm?


Andrea decided to head to college like she had originally planned.

She’s leaving me in the dust and off to chase her dreams embodying her future-self guidewords purposeful/limitless/explorer and with all the self-coaching tools she’s going to need for her next decision and on and on and on.

All good decisions are based on self-worth and self-love and self-kindness and having your own back.

Sometimes, what I do, after my teens have decided is to affirm their decision to take a little bit of the edge and pressure off.

“That’s what I would do too.”


Self-love superpower,

Dr. Karla, ActivistMD



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