Helping Your Teen Set Goals

In every AWARE presentation, we talk about setting goals for success. Every person has unique talents, skills, learning abilities, and dreams, but without goals, they won’t be successful. As a parent, you play a huge role in helping your teens make and achieve their goals.

One great way to start is to have a “goal setting session”. Pick a time where you won’t be rushed or interrupted, maybe go somewhere special, and have some time with just you and your teen. Then discuss or write down their answers to questions like the following. Encourage them to be as open and honest as possible, and promise to not be surprised or upset about any of their answers. Let them have as much time as they need to answer the questions.

  • What do I want out of life?
  • What do I most enjoy doing?
  • Who do I admire and why?
  • What am I good at?
  • What dreams do I have?
  • What motivates me?
  • What does success look like to me?
  • What values are most important to me?
  • What would I like my life to look like in 5, 10, or 15 years from now?

As you talk through these and similar questions, you’ll have an idea of the framework of what direction their goals are going. Their goals may be very different from yours, so acknowledge how awesome that is before gently guiding them through the goal setting process. As you listen to them, they’ll want to listen to you.

Now’s the fun part: taking the big picture and setting actual goals. A good goal is a SMART goal: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bounded.

Here what that can look like:

  1. Get specific: Help them break down big dreams to specific goals. Instead of a vague “I want to have good grades”, try “I would like to get only A’s or B’s this semester.”
  2. Make it measurable: Have them ask the question “How will I know when I’ve reached this goal?” Discuss the steps needed to achieve each goal, and how each step will be measured. If needed, write down what you’ll need to research and who you might need to talk to for specific steps.
  3. Keep it attainable: Don’t let them get overwhelmed by big goals, but set small goals to help meet the big goals. At the same time, remind them that a wish isn’t a goal if it’s not probable or possible to achieve, ie. “I wish to be a millionaire by the time I graduate high school”.
  4. Stay realistic: Let them aim high, then consider possible problems with the goal. Discuss how to address the problems or modify the goal to make it realistic. Are there finance problems or time constraints? Consider allowing more time, or changing the order of goals.
  5. Time-bounded: Set goals that can be achieved in the next year, then the next 5 years, 10 years, etc. Again, remind them that reaching small goals will help them reach the big goals. The way they play at tomorrow’s game, how they do in their test next week, and what kind of friend they are this month all matter!

Once you’ve had your initial “goal setting session”, make sure to check in every now and then, set rewards for accomplishing goals, and encourage them all along the way. Whether it’s grades or sports or accomplishments like getting a driver’s license, celebrate each step.

Periodically do “goal check-in sessions” to look at what they’ve done, adjust goals as needed, and praise every effort, no matter how small. Talk about how great it feels to meet a goal, and the rewards that come with it.

Helping your teen set goals is a life skill that will help your child all through life. Watch them grow and succeed as they aim high and make their life dreams come true!

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