How Teens Can Improve Problem-Solving Skills

Parenting a teenager is one of life’s biggest and most important challenges. Sometimes, it can be downright confounding! 


In some ways, teenagers seem like they’re already adults. In other ways, they’re very much just kids, and their brains are still developing. This dichotomy leaves many parents in a constant state of uncertainty, wondering when to offer structured guidance and when to give their teens freedom and agency to make their own decisions. 


With college admissions on the horizon, parents feel significant pressure to ensure that their teens are prepared for the next phase in their lives. 


One common concern parents voice to our team here at Signet is that their kids haven’t yet learned how to problem-solve effectively. They fear their kids are behind in developing this critical skill and wonder what they can do to support them. 


At Signet, our academic coaching service is designed around problem-solving for teens. Let’s take a closer look at why problem-solving is so important for teens to master and how parents and other adults can help. 


Problem-Solving for Teens: Why It’s Important 

Learning how to solve problems is essential during the teenage years because, for the first time in their lives, teens are actually having to make decisions that could have long-term implications. 


The stakes feel incredibly high. College admissions are looming. Grades matter more than ever. Students wonder what the heck they’re going to do with their lives. 

Freshmen and sophomores might not feel the full existential weight of these realities quite yet. However, by the time they reach junior and senior years, they’ll officially be in it—and if they’ve never had to solve a problem on their own up to that point, they might flounder.


Building problem-solving skills as early as possible helps students get to the end of high school prepared to address significant matters with confidence and purpose.  

It’s not that teens who don’t master these skills will be totally unsuccessful. It’s more likely that their parents will drive them through making major decisions, and as a result, they won’t have a good sense of meaning and direction in their lives. These are the young adults who may wake up one day and wonder, in the words of David Byrne, “How did I get here?” 


When Students Struggle to Solve Problems

Problem-solving is about more than simply fixing an issue; it’s about making good decisions. 


Students may struggle to solve problems in various areas of their lives. Contrary to popular belief, many students actually feel more comfortable solving problems in an academic setting than in their personal lives because they have more agency and freedom at school. When parents are too overbearing at home, teens often adopt the mentality that they have no control, so why even bother? 


Similarly, many students perform well in school and get good grades but struggle in their social lives because they lack confidence. 


Of course, some students face difficulties in every area of their lives. For example, kids with ADHD and executive function challenges often feel misunderstood by those around them. The so-called typical approach to problem-solving may not work for them in quite the same way, and they’ll need extra support to become more confident in their abilities. 


Encouraging Teens to Solve Problems Independently 

When encouraging teens to solve problems independently, one tried-and-true strategy academic coaches use is asking open-ended questions. 


Imagine that you—the parent—are shining a flashlight into the dark room of your teen’s problem. What do they see? What happens if they look in that corner over there? Do they perhaps need to turn around and observe the room from a different perspective? The goal is to bring a teen into a state of self-reflection. 


At the end of this exploration, empower your teen by asking them: “What are you going to do?” Providing them with the solution should be the last resort—and even then, we recommend posing suggestions and encouraging your teen to make their choice.  


Failure is part of the process

Sometimes, students solve a problem inadequately on their own and fail. That’s okay! Building problem-solving skills is a journey. Rather than aiming for perfection right out of the gate, students (and parents!) must trust the process, which involves making a plan, testing it out, and adjusting when something doesn’t work as planned. 


Ultimately, students will learn from their failures and mistakes, and they’ll build confidence and resilience by overcoming difficult situations. 


Providing space for growth 

Another piece of advice we give parents is not to assume they’ve got a better answer to a problem than their teen does! Parents may have an idea of how something should be done and get frustrated because their teen isn’t doing it that way. 


But when you let your teen find their own answers, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. It’s extremely rewarding to see a kid put the pieces together and learn to solve a problem or make a decision on their own. With a little bit of space, there is endless potential for growth! 


Building Problem-Solving Skills Through Academic Coaching

Students who need a little extra support in improving their problem-solving skills can benefit significantly from academic coaching. Signet’s academic coaching method focuses closely on developing the executive functions necessary for solving problems and making important decisions independently. 


We empower students to set and work toward goals that matter to them, providing the support they need to be successful. Students leave the experience feeling more motivated, confident, and self-actualized. 


Our student-centered approach doesn’t just show up in our academic coaching services. It guides us in every service we offer, from subject tutoring to test prep to college admissions consulting. We’re committed to helping students build all the critical skills they need to carry them through high school, college, and beyond. 


If you’d like to learn more about academic coaching or one of Signet’s other offerings, we’re only a phone call away. Let’s connect to discuss your student’s goals and develop a plan of action customized to their unique needs. Contact us today to start the conversation

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