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Giving Teens the Confidence to Thrive

Being a teenager—or the parent of one—has never been easy, but navigating middle school and high school during a global pandemic has brought new challenges to teens and their families. Enter Brooks Wilkening S’09, a confidence coach who’s made it her mission to help young people and their parents connect, grow, and thrive.

By Michelle Westlund '83, senior content specialist

January 29, 2021 | 1 p.m.

Brooks Wilkening

Brooks Wilkening S’09 is a confidence coach and the mother of four teenagers.

It’s never been easy to be a teenager—or the parent of one—but navigating middle school and high school during a global pandemic has brought new challenges to teens and their families. Enter Brooks Wilkening S’09, who’s passionate about helping teenagers and has the credentials to prove it—she’s the mother of four teens; a member of the student ministries team at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, Minnesota; a marriage and family therapy graduate of Bethel Seminary; and now a confidence coach. “I help teens, young adults, and parents uncover obstacles, manage self-talk, and develop lasting confidence,” she says. “My passion is to help people thrive.”

Wilkening grew up in the same area where she ministers now—Edina, Minnesota—and sees that as a distinct advantage in her work. She knows the place. She knows the people. And she knows the struggles. “There’s a tendency to think suburban kids don’t struggle because things may look good outwardly,” she explains, “but just like anywhere, there’s stuff underneath.”

As a young person, Wilkening was involved in Young Life, a ministry to kids, teens, and college students. There, she found people who loved Jesus and accepted others just as they were. Later, as a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she felt challenged and lonely as a believer, so she volunteered with Young Life, serving on its staff her senior year. A few years later she began serving in student ministries at Christ Presbyterian Church, then added another role working with teens—as a dance team coach—to her full schedule. It was then that Wilkening noticed how much of her job involved coaching not just teenagers, but their parents, and that led to her pursuit of a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degree (MAMFT).

Her Bethel Seminary journey was seven years long, because Wilkening was juggling some other priorities at the same time—three of her four children were born during those years, and she was pregnant with her youngest child when she walked across the stage to accept her diploma. She remembers seminary faculty as flexible and supportive, walking alongside her as she balanced her family life, work, and studies. “They took me on a journey of discovery that they were on themselves,” she says. “And they trained me to come alongside others in their journeys.” At Bethel, says Wilkening, “we were taught to see ourselves as recovering rescuers. We were taught to know our role—stepping back and providing tools to empower others. I can’t help you solve your problems, but I can help you learn to solve them.”

“Bethel Seminary professors took me on a journey of discovery that they were on themselves—and they trained me to come alongside others in their journeys.”

— Brooks Wilkening S’09

After graduation, she worked as a counselor for awhile, but Wilkening found her calling when she worked with one student from her church who wanted coaching. It was then that her true passion—confidence coaching—“took on a life of its own,” she says. Wilkening explains the difference between therapy and coaching: “Therapy often deals with past trauma and debilitating beliefs. Coaching is when you’re ready to move forward. It’s goal-setting.”

As a parent, Wilkening personally faces some of the same challenges as the families she works with, navigating the new normal of pandemic-affected school and social life for her own teens. Her twin oldest daughters headed off to college this fall, one of them to Bethel, and she has two teenagers still at home. Immersed in the teen landscape at home, in student ministries, and in her coaching practice, Wilkening has a deep awareness and compassion for the concerns of teens and their families. She points to four main areas of concern.

First, in the face of normal teenage struggles coupled with the challenges of COVID-19, she says, “anxiety is rampant. It’s paralyzing for a lot of kids. They feel debilitated by fears.” Second, body image issues, long a concern for young people, are increasingly exacerbated by social media. Third, social media in general is a problem, since “kids are not taught the difference between what is reality and what is not.” And finally, self-esteem is taking an extra hit from pandemic isolation, since kids can’t do some of the things they would normally do when they’re feeling bad, like going places and hanging out with friends.

Wilkening sees the concerns of teens as a family concerns. In fact, she says, sometimes coaching a teen actually means coaching the parent. “Our kids’ mental health will only come so far as we as parents will let it,” she emphasizes. “We as parents have to open our minds, open our hearts, and open our eyes to what our kids are dealing with.” She offers three suggestions for parents who want to support their teen’s mental health:

  • Stay engaged. “Kids need us emotionally. They appear to be independent, but middle school and high school students need us the most. Tired, overcommitted parents need to stay prayerfully aware of how to stay emotionally involved in their kids’ lives, to be someone who accepts them unconditionally regardless of their accomplishments.”
  • See deeper. “Mental health is something we don’t see unless we look for it. Ask God to give you eyes to see deeper and to be okay with what you see.”
  • Share your journey. “Parents should share their own mental health journey—their mistakes, their fears, the lies they have believed. This provides common language around emotions and fears teens may be experiencing.”

While working with teens and their families means facing some significant challenges head-on, Wilkening ultimately finds hope in the journey. “Teenagers want to get better,” she says. “They haven’t developed lifelong habits around negative feelings, so when they learn to identify the lies and take their power back, there is so much potential for growth. God does not want them—or any of us—to be ashamed of who we are. At our core, we are created by a good God, and we need to be rooted in that.”

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