Teach Teens to Set Goals

Setting 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.

Due to the ongoing pandemic and the resulting disruption to the upcoming school year, goal-setting is probably more important now than ever. It is easy to get discouraged when faced with so much uncertainty, but if you set goals, you can create a renewed focus on what matters most.

Importance of Goal Setting

This skill is important because research shows that setting goals helps us:

  • Understand a clear path to success
  • Develop leadership skills
  • Overcome challenges
  • Create accountability
  • Learn about deadlines and handling pressure
  • Develop critical thinking skills
  • Increase motivation
  • Build teams and improve teamwork
  • Cultivate problem-solving skills
  • Improve time-management skills
  • Become aware of our actions and how our efforts impact our success
  • Boost self-confidence


How to Teach the Goal-Setting Process

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

  • Define 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, dreams and desires. 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.
    • Goals should be realistic. Nothing is more discouraging then striving toward an unattainable goal. A goal is realistic if, given time and effort, your child stands a reasonably good chance of accomplishing it.
    • Goals should be relevant. The most important thing to remember is that these are their goals, not yours. While you should provide guidance about the process of making goals, you should not be deciding the specific content, no matter how much you think your teen needs to work in a certain area. If the goal is not something your teen cares about, they won’t be motivated to achieve it.
    • Goals should be measurable. Teens need to be able to monitor their progress and determine whether or not they accomplished the goal. For example, if your teen wants to improve their grades, they can measure their success on their report card.
    • Goals should be specific. If goals are too vague, your teen will not know how to achieve the goal or how to make it measurable. Here are a couple of examples of how to change a vague goal into a 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 “get better grades,” your teen might say “I’m going to get all Bs and higher on my next report card.”
  • Create Action Plans. The next step is breaking down their larger goal into small, manageable action steps. These are the specific steps needed to achieve the overall goal. 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.
    • This is often the hardest step for teens, so it might help for you to brainstorm actions steps with them.
    • They should write down each step and assign a deadline. 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 their smaller action steps done.
  • Review Goals Daily. It’s important for teens to keep their goals in the forefront of their mind so that they make daily decisions that will keep them on track. Suggest some ways they can do that, such as posting their goals on their bathroom mirror, creating a vision board to display in their room, setting up a weekly meeting with an adult to discuss their progress, or taking a moment each day to visualize themselves accomplishing their 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.
  • Reflect on Progress. Since their goals should be measurable and have deadlines, they will be able to review their progress each week and determine if they are still on target. If they’re not, they should determine why. They might need to revise their action plans or they might need to establish more accountability to get and stay motivated.
  • 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.


Final Thoughts…

Teaching your teen to set and accomplish goals will help them feel confident and in charge of their own happiness and success. Setting goals may be more important than ever during the pandemic. The increase of uncertainty and the changes to normal school procedures can impact a student’s mental health. Having goals to focus on and work towards will help them be more successful despite the unusual circumstances.

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