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Childhood Consultants

Unregulated and often unaccredited, life coaches have become a ubiquitous accessory for troubled rich kids. Should you—or your child—take their advice?

BY Alina Tugend | Life | Apr 7, 2012
Illustration By Matt Kenyon/Getty Images

I’ve always been skeptical about life coaches. As the term entered the lexicon, I couldn’t figure out what it meant or why I would send my child to one. If my son were having anxiety issues, wouldn’t I send him to a therapist? For academic problems, what about a tutor? And since any unemployed person with a dose of moxie can call him or herself a life coach—you don’t need any kind of degree to hang a life coach shingle—why should I trust my child to one?

But life coaching, especially for kids and families, is a booming business, with coaches charging anywhere from $50 to $500 an hour. The New York Times reported recently that the demand for life coaches has soared since 2007, when the economy started to tank and unemployment, especially among the young, shot up. Universities such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Duke have all started life coach training programs.

Life coaching has become particularly popular among high net worth families. Partly that’s because it’s the affluent who can afford life coaches’ sometimes hefty fees, which typically aren’t covered by insurance. But life coaches I spoke with say that much of the demand is due to wealthy families’ habit of repeatedly rescuing their children. Your teenager totals the Audi? Buy a new one. Flunks out? Try a finishing school that includes walks in the woods and trust exercises. Sells a little pot to his friends? Concede that when you were a kid, you did the same.

The kids never learn to deal with their own problems. And that, life coaches say, is where they step in , working with the children and parents to create strategies that make life better for both.

“I’m the buffer,” says Natalie Rosin, a life coach based in Rye, New York. “So many times parents want what’s best for the child, but can’t step back to see what is best. I play the bad guy so the dynamics between parent and child can get better.”

Rosin calls her private practice WAVES, for Working Attitudes Values Esteem Self. She specializes in helping teens with substance abuse and depression, and like most of the life coaches interviewed for this column, says that the difference between therapy and coaching is that coaching focuses on the future, not the past. It’s not about analyzing what went wrong when you were 10, but developing coping skills for college and beyond.

Life coaching is also more informal than psychotherapy. You don’t have to meet in a tastefully decorated room with a couch, an easy chair and some reference tomes. Because that might make kids uncomfortable, coaches often meet clients at a park or in a coffee shop—whatever works. They’ll converse by email, text or phone between sessions if necessary. And unlike therapy, there’s no assumption that what passes between coach and patient will remain confidential—a coach may bring parents in when necessary.

Robert Tudisco, executive director of Edge Foundation, which provides coaching for kids with ADHD, says that coaching is different from tutoring or mentoring. “A tutor teaches you what to do. A mentor wants you to emulate. Coaching is client centered and client-driven. We help clients find where their strengths and weaknesses lie and help them navigate around the weakness and gravitate toward the strength,” Tudisco says.

That sounds an awful lot like, well, a tutor or a mentor with trendy jargon and a higher price tag.But now that I understand life coaching better, in some ways it sounds great. Who wouldn’t want perspective and guidance from another adult, especially when nothing you try with your child seems to work?

I still worry about the fact that life coaches don’t need to be accredited, but as the profession gets more competitive and more scrutinized, coaches without degrees will likely be marginalized. Life coaches, it seems, are here to stay. Just make sure you find the good ones.

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