Navigating the complexities of adolescence is challenging, but strength-based coaching offers a way forward. In this real-world case study, we follow a 16-year-old student who learns to overcome his own obstacles through a unique approach that blends his interest in computer science with self-awareness techniques. By rephrasing “excuses” as “bugs,” the method taps into language that resonates with the student, facilitating meaningful self-reflection and growth. This experience serves as an eye-opener not just for the young adult, but also offers invaluable insights for parents, educators, and coaches committed to helping children become more self-aware and resilient.
After a few sessions with a 16-year-old, it seemed as though the excuses kept getting in his way of completing his homework assignments;

“I forgot”    

 “I get too stressed out”  

 “I don’t think that assignment REALLY has to be turned in”  

“Maybe my teacher won’t require it if I tell them how sick I’ve been.”

In our first session, this same kid told me his goal was to get “zero zeroes” this year.                                                

After the second session of excuses, I wondered how I could help HIM see that these were the roadblocks that were already standing in his way so early in the school year.

Road blocks

How could I help him break the habit without directly calling him out on those excuses?

From my years of studying child development, I knew little kids learn best through play, and that teens seem to learn best and open up more when the adult enters into their world in a meaningful way. This is the idea behind strength-based coaching, so, with the goal in mind of helping HIM see where his own excuses were getting in his way, I gave it a try.

I felt like I was walking a fine line, having him look honestly at his excuses, while holding a space of non-judgment.

This particular child initially told me he was into computers and wanted to pursue a college degree in computer science.

Immediately, I knew that would be the connection into his world that would make sense to him, enough for him to be able to identify his own roadblocks.

So I posed the question “what is it called when there’s something that keeps a computer from operating at the speed it’s capable of operating?”

Immediately, he answered “a bug!”

His eyes lit up, he was starting to see the connection, so we kept going.

“Imagine you are the computer. Your ultimate goal is to operate with zero zeroes this school year, but there are a few bugs that are making it impossible. Let’s talk about those.”

He was hesitant at first but gave a few answers;

“Procrastination, stress, forgetting.”

I could tell he understood the concept, but I needed him to see more than just the obvious. All the things he listed could have been written off as things out of his control…which would add more fuel to his excuses.

So I jumped into the analogy with him with an example of my own. “Going to the gym is really important to me. This morning, I decided to go, but then a few bugs came into the equation. My brain started saying things like ‘I feel tired, I think I’m sick, I should probably rest, I want to spend more time on a project at home, etc’. Those are all fine thoughts, but because they prevented me from my goal of getting in a good workout, they were bugs for me.”

He paused for a bit, then got a bit more honest. “Well sometimes I pretend that I forget, but I don’t really forget. That’s a bug.”


Inside I wanted to jump out of my seat and give him a high five, he just identified a HUGE roadblock/excuse that he likely hadn’t ever admitted to before. Labeling it as a “bug” kept it less judgmental, but still honest enough for him to identify it as something that gets in his way of reaching his goals.

By using his strengths, we were able to connect for a moment that created just enough space for a little honesty, and hopefully a lot of self-reflection for years to come. Because computers are something he cares about, I imagine he’ll always remember the analogy of the “bugs” in our lives. In future sessions, we’ll definitely build on this analogy to help him dive deeper into those excuses that get in his way.

That’s the beauty of supporting kids where they’re at and entering into their world to help them understand themselves just a little better.

Coach Wendy Bertagnole
Executive Function Coach and Parent Coach
Effective Effort Consulting.CATEGORIES: