It’s one of those things that’s understood, but not spoken: our starry-eyed notion of the “glorious high school experience” is a farce. On the surface, there’s this thick layer of frosting: AP courses, athletic achievement and prom photos. We shut our eyes to the cake underneath, the stuff supporting the frosting: our teens’ social and emotional experience as they strive for mega-achievement. For many young adults, the cake under the frosting isn’t made of sugar and spice; it’s made of lead bars. The kind that leave bruises.

Thanks to our Instagram culture, we hide those bruises, instead sharing pics of volleyball trophies, the school play, the “love you mom!” message that came in late last night. In private, we agonize because our kid is cutting themself again. Dating a sketchy character. Refusing to put down the video game controller. We wonder where their crippling anxiety came from, and how to deal. We set up psychiatrist appointments, research online schools, Google, “How to help desperate teen.” And we keep searching, because nothing seems to sweeten the cake.

Wait, where did my sweet little kid go?!

The younger years were so easy! Okay, there were sleepless nights and icky diaper changes, but who’s sleeping after that cell-phone-in-their-room-overnight blowout? And is that sink full of crusty unwashed dishes any less icky than a Pamper?

In elementary school, commiseration was the norm. The fights over putting on shoes and spelling homework morphed into comedy when discussed with other parents. There was no shame in failure. It was a given! Which superhuman can wrestle an eight-year-old into a pair of tights? Who wouldn’t admit to doing that stupid social studies project on Guyana, which no first grader can pronounce, let alone recite the gross domestic product of, themself?

To compensate for the struggle, there were bedtime hugs. Shopping trips for tiny outfits. And endless support from mommy blogs, glossy magazines and Good Morning America guests. Come middle school, those resources dwindle to one article in the back-back of the parenting mag.

Meet the bruisers: middle and high school.

Then comes middle and high school, when kids scream through rapid, dramatic shifts in body, brain, and personality. Their job, developmentally, is to challenge their parents’ norms; their drive, psychologically, is to prioritize peers over parents. Meanwhile, their academic mandate is to achieve more than a Wall Street lawyer.

Furthermore, the parenting resources dry up. You’re in a support Sahara. You can’t admit to that tiff, that you found their Juul, that you’re researching residential treatment! You’re supposed to be perfect. If there’s a crack in the frosting, what’s wrong with you?!

There’s a name for this: competitive parenting. No wonder you need that weighted blanket. That Ambien. That second (third?) glass of wine.

Ahh, a solution: teen coaching!

Through my training as a board-certified life coach for teens and my two decades teaching high school, I understand the element that’s most needed—and least practiced—to support adolescents: having an opportunity to just talk. About their unfiltered experiences. Their self-created goals. And for our part, deeply listening. Without filtering their words through our own experience, values, or hopes. As a life coach for teens, I do exactly these things.

In sessions with the life coach for teens, we figure out what kids really want. The thrill of envisioning that future unleashes motivation. We use that surge to build a personalized roadmap for how to get around the current blocks, and–with gradually larger, self-chosen steps–kids work their way out of their current leaden reality and into the sweet, inviting future. Finally, throughout the process we explore, and smooth out, the bruising tools kids rely on for escape, whether those be e-cigarettes, harmful relationships, excessive gaming, self-harm, or another device.

With these posts, I’ll explore the struggles kids bring to teen coaching and offer insight on how to help kids work through the bruisey stuff. If you’re ready to look under the frosting, to understand those totally-not-sweet adolescent issues that nobody seems to have a solution for, sign up for my mailing list. You’ll get these posts delivered to your inbox.

So yeah. You just keep on worrying about the frosting. I’ll bring the bruise-salve, and the recipe for turning lead into sugar.