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The 4 Modes of Trusted Adulting

Article By Brooklyn Raney, Guest Expert and author of the book One Trusted Adult.

5 Minute Read 

We know from the research that trusted adults can make a profound difference in the lives of young people, and my last blog post I asked you to reflect on the adults who were there for you. But not all trusted adults play the same role for youth. In fact, trusted adults show up in many forms, and for different durations. Our own interviews and research at One Trusted Adult have told us that, no matter the form or the length of time trusted adults are active in a young person’s life, young people need four different modes from the adults who surround them at any given time. 


Here are the four essential modes of trusted adulting, called the 4 Cs:



Sometimes a trusted adult meets the needs of a young person by serving as a cheerleader. Being cut from a team, losing an election, failing a quiz, and experiencing embarrassing moments are regular school setbacks that can be accompanied by shame and doubt. In these moments, a trusted adult in cheerleading mode can remind a young person of their unique gifts, strengths, and talents, and encourage them to keep going. 



When hurdles are big and obstacles are everywhere, a trusted adult can fill a comforting need. Most often, the comforting mode is effective when the trusted adult spends 90% of their time just listening to the young person. A comforter provides a young person with an opportunity to be heard, to be themselves, and to be reminded that someone is invested in their well-being and success.



When a young person complains about not getting the sneakers they want for their birthday (guilty) or behaves in an inappropriate or disruptive way, a trusted adult may need to challenge them. Such trusted adults hold up a mirror, provide a reality check, and express compassion through their commitment to questioning behavior that will not serve the young person well in the future.



When a young person asks for advice and guidance, a trusted adult needs to shift into coaching mode. Young people have interests, ideas, passions, and gifts, but not always the direction or knowledge to know what to do with them. Trusted adults who lean into their coaching role assist young people in dreaming big, setting goals, and planning for action while giving them a reason to steer clear of avoidable risks.


At different times, different types of trusted adults are necessary. Can you categorize the people who showed up for you? Who were your cheerleaders? Comforters? Challengers? Coaches?


Sometimes one adult can play all four roles, shifting to show up in the way the moment demands. Other times, we rely on a team of trusted adults to meet the varying youth needs in the moment; what we know for sure is that the work of a trusted adult, in all forms, is the most meaningful, impactful, and life-changing work we can do.      


Brooklyn's "One Trusted Adult" Tips:


  1. Share a picture and a description of your trusted adult with your children or students. Use the language of cheerleading, comforting, challenging, and coaching, so your young people get used to understanding the many ways adults invest in their well-being and success. 


  1. Ask the young people or students in your care what each of the 4 Cs sounds like, and when they might need an adult to show up in each mode. Write them down or act them out.
    • What might a trusted adult say when they are in cheerleading mode? 
    • What might a trusted adult say when they are in comforter mode? 
    • What might a trusted adult say when they are in confronting mode? 
    • What might a trusted adult say when they are in coaching mode?    


Brooklyn is the Founder and Lead Trainer of One Trusted Adult, an organization that provides programming for educators, parents and young people, to ensure that every young person has at least one trusted adult.


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