Setting Goals for School Success

CB037609Setting goals is an important skill that can help anyone be more successful in life. Goals can provide direction and purpose in our lives. Learning to set goals takes practice, so it’s a great idea for parents and teachers to teach this skill to teens now to help them to become more successful in adulthood. The beginning of a new school year is a perfect time to encourage your teen to establish some goals. Studies show that teens who set goals at the beginning of each school year are more likely to succeed academically and have a more positive attitude about school than those who do not set goals.

Possible Goals for Teens to Set for the New School Year

There are many possible goals that a teen could choose, but here are a few possibilities that might spur their own ideas:

  • Achieving Honor Roll,
  • Increasing independence,
  • Building more self-esteem,
  • Improving attendance or reducing tardies to class,
  • Gaining a positive outlook,
  • Being accepted into a specific college,
  • Making new friends,
  • Earning a starting position on a sports team,
  • Decreasing unhealthy habits,
  • Improving academic performance in a specific subject,
  • Reducing procrastination, or
  • Working towards a specific career.


Goal-Setting Process

Parents should encourage their teens to set long-term and short-term goals by sitting down with them to talk through the goal setting process:

  • Ask your teen to define their goals. The first step in establishing goals is thinking through priorities and identifying what you want to accomplish. So, ask your teen to tell you their priorities. The most important thing to remember is that these are their priorities and their goals, not yours. While your teen needs you to provide guidance about the process of making goals, you should not be deciding the specific content, no matter how much you think they need to work in a certain area. Developing goals on your own provides ownership for accomplishing your objectives. When someone else creates a priority for you, it may feel like someone else is in charge of your objectives, which can result in feelings of discouragement and having a harder time staying on track. Instead, use this opportunity to learn about your teen’s dreams and desires, and figure out what you can do to support him or her. If your teen seems to be at a loss for what they want to achieve, you might encourage them to imagine they were making a graduation speech to all their friends and family about what’s important to them and what they’ve accomplished.
  • Discuss and brainstorm the steps needed to achieve their goals. This is the hard part for teens, as they may not know how to achieve their goals. Help them figure out how to break down their larger goal into manageable smaller goals, and then small, specific action steps to get to those goals. When they have smaller tasks to work towards, your teen will feel that they are accomplishing something on the way to the goal, will be able to see their progress, and will not feel so overwhelmed by the larger goal.
  • Identify possible obstacles. Help your teen recognize possible roadblocks to accomplishing their goals and how best to deal with them. For example, if their time is limited, help them to consider how to rearrange their schedule, or if money is an issue, help them to think about how they could earn extra money. Remind your teen that they will have to be flexible in achieving their goal. Obstacles may appear that your teen didn’t think of, and they need to know that they can alter their plan to address the problem. Slip-ups are actually part of the learning process.
  • Make deadlines. Without a specific date in mind, goals can be placed on the back burner. Encourage your teen to set up some accountability by creating deadlines to get some of their smaller action steps done. When your teen clearly sees their own progress, they will feel more confident and positive about themselves and the goal process.
  • Establish a reward. Encourage your teen to think of a reward for when they accomplish their goal. It’s more fun to work towards something when there is a fun payoff at the end. And, be sure to praise your teen when they succeed.


Tips for Teens to Reach Their Goals

Offer your teen some practical tips on goal setting to help them successfully reach their goals:

  • Create goals that are both specific and realistic. A goal is realistic if, given time and effort, your child stands a reasonably good chance of accomplishing it. These types of goals will help them to be more successful and makes it easier for them to stick with the work required to get there. Here are a couple of examples of how to change a vague goal into a realistic, specific one:
    • Instead of setting a goal to “improve the environment,” your teen might say “I’m going to recycle all my plastic bottles, soda cans, and magazines.”
    • Instead of setting a goal to “lose weight,” your teen might say “I’m going to lose ten pounds in six months.”
  • Think about your goal every day. Even if your teen just says their goal out loud each morning to remind themselves of what they want and what they’re working for, they will be more likely to accomplish their goal if they focus on it. If they’re trying to change a habit, let them know that it takes a couple of months before changes become part of a regular routine, and to keep at it.
  • Be cautious of becoming only focused on the future. Setting goals are great for driving purposeful action in our lives, but there is a risk that we can develop an “I’ll be happy when…” mentality. Try to develop in your teen a healthy balance of setting goals for the future, but recognizing gratitude for what is happening in their present.
  • Offer your teen some creative ways to make goal achievement fun. Use your teen’s love of technology to your advantage! There are numerous apps that help you create dream boards or work on the goal setting process. Pinterest can help your teen to express their goals through pictures, video, and music.


Final Thoughts…

Teaching your teen to set and accomplish goals will help them feel confident and in charge of their own happiness and success.

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