Help my Teenager: We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know

There is a running gag in the music world that goes something like this: “those who don’t know: teach”. The premise is somewhere along the lines of “famous or successful artists and musicians don’t teach. They don’t need to. Why would they? They’re famous and / or successful!”

This idea poses a couple of problems:

  1. If you’re not successful, who are you to teach anything? You can’t teach what you don’t know.
  2. Students imitate behavior… and it’s far more likely that parents, in particular, want their children imitating positive and success-creating behaviors than the opposite.
  3. Whilst people like Jim Rohn have said that there’s a lot to learn from failures [and there is!]: again – young people seldom have built enough critical thinking skills to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy behaviors.

In saying that, at the beginning of my youth work career in New Zealand, I was working as a youth empowerment coordinator for the YMCA, and hired someone to facilitate a self-defense. My group of kids were an athletic bunch, and – given that I was training in Krav Maga at the time – I knew how much of a positive effect physical exercise is – especially when coupled with the principles of self-defense. At the time, parkour [an athletic training discipline in which practitioners attempt to get from point A to point B in the most fluid way possible, without assisting equipment and in the fastest and most efficient way possible] was fast becoming the trend of the youth world. It made sense to me to find someone who excelled at both parkour and self-defense.

Given that I had zero experience or knowledge on parkour: I hired someone.

Halfway through the workshop, however, I realized that the “instructor” had zero idea what he was doing, let alone teaching, which is dangerous territory when working with any kind of student, let alone teenaged [read: impressionable] students.

In his mind, I’m sure / hope he thought that what he was doing was leading a great example of “when you put your mind to something: you can achieve anything”. What ended up happening is:
  1. Several of my crew called him out on his lack of knowledge
  2. One kid got hurt
  3. The “coach” lost all credibility and respect from the students
  4. By the end of the workshop, no one was paying attention to anything that he was trying to teach.

Why do I bring this up? Because this happens a lot – no matter what area of teaching we’re discussing. We often hear of high school students who are being taught subjects from teachers that they themselves didn’t study or excel in. Often people in managerial roles haven’t studied how to be a good manager… which, of course, leads to poor job retention, and a high stress work environment. Quite often this happens with coaches, mentors or youth workers too - as they find themselves coaching, mentoring, and working within specific areas that aren’t within their “zone of genius”.

All of these circumstances can lead to resentment, acting out, rebellion, lack of respect, and – ultimately -  significantly elevated stress... with clients, managers, coaches, counsellors... everyone loses.

Especially your teenager.

Not ideal.

Let's Talk About the "Zone of Genius"

If you're not familiar with the term "zone of genius", Gay Hendricks coined the term in his book The Big Leap. He suggests that we each have four zones of learning and comprehension: incompetence, competence, excellence and genius.

In other words, in order to be a genius when it comes to pushups, for example, we need to first honor our utter inability at the beginning of our journey, before we can become competent [let's say 10 push ups], then excellent [50] and genius [100].

When you take into consideration Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule: whereby it takes 10,000 hours to become a "genius" at any task or subject, this means that we each have the potential to become geniuses - if we take the 10,000 hours of time to actually work at said task or subject.

But most people rarely do.

If we do the math, let's say you want to work towards parkour being your area of expertise. In order to reach your "zone of genius" with parkour, you would need to be fine-tuning your skills for - on average - two hours a day every day... meaning that it would still take you 13.6 years to become a genius-level parkour traceur [practitioner], but who has time for that? Increase that time to four hours a day... you're still going to be working hard for - at minimum - six years.

Of course, some people claim that they have put in the work, or can "fake it till they make it", but claims and faking don't serve your teenager. We need to be careful who we take advice from. We need to be cautious about who we're allowing into the gardens of our minds. Or - to take a page from Jim Rohn's book again - we need to be mindful of whether those that tell us they're offering us sugar are actually giving us sugar, and not strychnine. Even if well intentioned... what we let into our environments [high school / workplace / college...] and into our minds [hello emotional and mental health] can make or break us.

It's incredibly easy to become complacent and simply assume that teachers, coaches and mentors are the experts... but by taking your foot off of the gas pedal of caution: the above examples of parkour coaching gone wrong can happen to your teenager... but the consequences could potentially be even worse.

Imagine if...

  1. Your teenager stopped putting in the work because they have identified that the mentor doesn't know what they're talking about.
  2. Your teenager could find themselves in a more vulnerable position than when they started [emotionally, mentally, physically, or even intellectually]
  3. Once all credibility is lost: your teenager starts to not just distrust their mentors, teachers or coaches, but other adults as well - including you: their parents.
  4. Your teenager checked out completely.

... and that's when the rebellious behavior, elevated stress, overwhelm, anxiety and depression can really start showing up.

But for every problem: there's a solution, and the solution here is easy. Thankfully.

Make sure that whoever you decide to trust when it comes to the emotional, intellectual and mental health development of your teenager, that you are working with someone who not only truly knows what they're talking about, but has also done the work themselves.

For this reason, I'm so very grateful to KTUL News Channel 8 Tulsa on ABC for their recent interview with me about not just my work as a Youth Empowerment through Songwriting coach, but also my background as a singer/songwriter, and how songwriting actively helped me to overcome my own neurological, mental health, and emotional trauma.

I've been turning to songwriting since I was four years old to help me navigate my stress, isolation, depression and anxiety. I was twelve when I started receiving active coaching around my songwriting, and stumbled across how to use songwriting as alchemy over ten years ago when I started co-writing with my then-guitarist Chris Yong while we were in a band together.

Suffice to say: I hit my 10,000hours of songwriting a long time ago.

If you'd like to learn more about how songwriting might be able to facilitate the emotional and mental health of your teenager, I'd love to hop on a call with you to see how I might be able to facilitate overcoming your teens mental health, stress, overwhelm, depression and anxiety fueled behavior.
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