As a parent, you might worry about raising your child to be a kind, empathetic, strong, humble individual. However, you never let go of the desire to see them succeed.
As a teenager, you probably place a high priority on enjoying yourself and becoming independent. You may want success because it promises a certain level of freedom. But you have to set the foundation for success before you can see it through.
Setting teen goals teaches you how to manage your life as you take on more responsibility. Getting comfortable with goal setting in your younger years can help you accomplish your dreams, avoid overwhelm and enjoy life’s journey.
Why Should Teens Set Goals?
Teens are going through enough. Should they really add goal setting to their list of things to do?
It’s never too early to learn that you can achieve everything that you want with organization and dedication. Setting goals doesn’t just let teens accomplish their dreams and objectives; it teaches them how to manage their lives.
Some of the ways that teens benefit from setting goals for teens include:
- They learn organizational skills
- They get to work on time management
- They are held accountable
- They learn to break down large tasks into workable chunks
- They improve their self-efficacy and intrinsic motivation
- It opens a dialogue between teens, parents, and teachers
- They learn how to handle mistakes
- It gives them a sense of control
- They learn how to make better decisions
In What Categories Should Teens Set Goals?
It used to be true that people held one job until they retired with a pension. Nowadays, people are switching jobs more frequently. There are many reasons for this, including:
- Gaining well-rounded experience
- Better chances of getting a pay raise with a change in employer than a promotion or bonus
- Better benefits
- More interesting work
- Better work-life balance
People switch jobs about every five years on average. If changing careers is so easy, maybe it’s not so important to build your entire existence around your job. Instead, focusing on personal development allows you to grow in a way that primes you for a life that fulfills your practical requirements and imaginative fantasies.
Teen goals, therefore, should concentrate on areas of life that are priorities for young people. These may include:
- Social impact
School is an important part of a teenager’s life. However, we would like to point out that teen goals should go beyond studying and doing well in school. A well-rounded student should also participate in extracurricular activities and learn about the benefits of connecting with the community.
Goals can have a huge impact on an individual’s entire existence. Modeling goal setting in a variety of categories exemplifies how being intentional allows you to create a life that you love.
Identity Development Goals
The list above fails to include one of the most important developmental tasks for teens: self-discovery. Therefore, we begin this article on teen goals by delving into what it means to set objectives for identity development.
Teens are going through many changes. During adolescence, individuals work hard to determine who they are.
Culture, family, society, media, teachers, and peers influence a young person’s identity. But self-discovery isn’t a passive pursuit.
Teens perform actions and make decisions that shape who they are, such as:
- Choosing who to hang out with
- Selecting and designing their environment
- Moderating their beliefs based on knowledge
- Adjusting their behaviors based on feedback
Adolescents are flexible. They may present themselves differently in distinct situations. As they do, they need to make sure that their actions are lined up with their priorities and values. They must also ensure that those values parallel their personal identity.
As teens get older, their identity reflects their role in the greater world. They begin to realize that they can make a difference by being true to themselves. Teens want to establish a sense of self that is harmonious to their environment.
Create Identity-Based Habits
James Clear says that the key to building enduring habits is to establish your identity first. That’s one reason that it’s so crucial for teens to explore their identity within the context of goal setting.
Think about something that you’re great at. Perhaps you’re great at soccer, can sight-read a piece of piano music brilliantly or remember strangers’ names when you meet them.
Would you say that you’re the kind of person who is good at soccer, practices your instrument diligently or is conscientious about learning acquaintances’ names? Your behaviors reflect the person who you believe yourself to be.
If you believe that you’re an intelligent teenager who is good at school, you probably earn high marks and turn in your assignments on time. However, if you believe that you’ll never get good grades no matter how hard you work, you probably struggle to prove yourself academically.
When most people talk about goal-setting, they think about outcome-based goals. Those include objectives that will produce a certain result, such as:
- Losing five pounds
- Getting an A on the science test
- Saving $1,000 over summer vacation
- Landing the lead role in the school play
There’s nothing wrong with setting results-based objectives. However, this shouldn’t be the only type of goal that you set. You can’t always control outcomes, and if you base all of your goals on external consequences, you may end up disappointed.
Teens Automatically Bring Their Identity Into Your Goals
In Daniel Coyle’s book “The Talent Code,” Professor Gary McPherson describes a study that he conducted in 1997 to find out why certain children progress faster than others when learning an instrument. Before they took their first music lesson, the kids were asked how long they expected to play their new instrument.
The answer options were:
- Until the end of this year – short-term commitment
- Through elementary school – medium-term commitment
- For the rest of your life – long-term commitment
The higher the children rated their commitment level, the faster they progressed, even when they didn’t practice as much as the children with low commitment.
The reason for the rapid improvement wasn’t practice time or dedication. It was that the students who performed better already thought of themselves as life-long musicians. At some point in their lives, they had identified as someone who would be good at playing music. They brought this identity with them to their lessons.
Everyone does this when setting goals. In fact, some people might indicate that they’re not good at setting goals.
That’s probably not true. Goal setting is not an inherent skill; it’s a technique that must be learned and practiced.
But if you believe that you’re terrible at doing it, you’re sabotaging yourself from the beginning. You’re probably not going to be committed to the practice, and you won’t be as likely to make your goals happen.
That’s why it’s crucial to help teens set identity goals before engaging in a more complex goal-setting strategy. Teens are often urged to set goals without being guided through the process. This is a sure way to teach them that they shouldn’t believe in themselves.
Following the tips in this article can help teens set realistic goals and take practical steps to achieve them so that they become a successful goal-setter who can take on the world.
Who Do You Want to Be?
Because the teen years are ideal for discovering who you are, why not set identity-based goals to allow yourself to grow from the ground up? To do this, you need to flip the common question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This approach allows you to concentrate on who you want to be instead of what you want to achieve.
Some questions to ask yourself when setting identity-based goals are:
- What do I stand for?
- What kind of person do I want to be?
- What do I value in other people?
- Who do I want to become?
Another way to look at setting identity-based goals for teens is to work backward from the objectives that they want to achieve. Let’s say that your goal is to establish a group of close friends when you start high school.
Ask yourself, “What kind of person has a tight-knit social circle?” Your answers might include someone who is:
- Interested in others
Think about what behaviors you could engage in to be the kind of person who reflects each of those qualities. Here are some examples:
- To be an outgoing person, you could befriend someone new at school.
- To be more honest, you can practice opening up to your parents.
- To be kind, you can do a good deed for someone once a day.
- To be helpful, you could offer to take on more responsibilities around the house.
- To be more interested in others, you could focus on asking questions and listening actively in social situations.
The trick is to take tiny actions that confirm that you’re the type of person that you want to be. As you prove that you are, in fact, an outgoing person, you’re more likely to continue to behave that way. You’re far more likely to reach your goal if you base it on your identity than rely on motivation alone.
Writing your goals down is important. When you put them to paper, consider phrasing them as, “I am… therefore I …” statements.
For example, you might say:
- I am outgoing; therefore, I make new friends easily.
- I am honest; therefore, I tell my parents the truth.
- I am kind; therefore, I seek out ways to show compassion.
- I am helpful; therefore, I am excited to complete my chores on time.
- I am interested in others; therefore, I love asking people about themselves.
When you look at yourself in the positive, all you have to do is act in alignment with your identity. Your goals will work themselves out because they reflect who you are.
Do Teen Goals Have to Be Transformational?
Some goals that adults strive for are life-changing. You may have bucket-list goals that fulfill your wildest dreams. You may envision that you’ll find lasting happiness if you get married and have children.
Even grownups can become overwhelmed if they try to make every goal monumental. Teens already have life-altering experiences regularly. Encourage them to set goals that are realistic and achievable so that they don’t become discouraged by the practice.
Some examples of teen goals are:
- Saving up to buy a prom dress
- Getting a B in Algebra
- Reading one book a month on an interesting topic
- Completing a project
- Finding a summer job
- Deciding which colleges to apply to
- Spending one hour of quality time a week with parents
- Getting 45 minutes of exercise a day
- Learning to drive
- Learning how to cook a well-rounded meal
- Registering to vote
We discuss why it’s important to set short and long-term goals below. Don’t discourage a teen from setting grand objectives. But teach them how to break those goals down into smaller action steps to make them happen.
Strategies for Teen Goal Setting
The teenage years are ripe with change. Young people at this age are seeking guidance, meaning, and fulfillment. But the things that are important to adults aren’t necessarily the things that teens value. Therefore, you should take the following factors into account when teaching teens to set goals.
1. Concentrate on Their Interests and Needs
If you’re a parent, teacher, mentor or caregiver, you probably have ideas of what’s best for the teens in your care. You have an objective perspective. You have experience. You can guide the teen to make the best decisions.
But the choices that were right for you aren’t necessarily ideal for your teen. Young people have to establish goals on their own terms. They may not be committed or engaged if they are following the guidelines that someone else sets for them.
Many parents subconsciously try to pass along their own dreams for their children. Remember that you’re trying to teach your child how to set goals. Don’t attempt to influence the content of those objectives. This is a great time to teach teens how to think for themselves.
Greater Good Magazine explains that teens respond positively to activities that lead to an understanding of self and foster social connections. If you don’t approach goal-setting from the right perspective, you might be met with resistance.
Even though teens should be responsible for setting their own goals, they may need help. They may need to learn some skills or get assistance from someone with more experience.
If you’re an adult that plays a role in a teenager’s life, make sure that you partner with them in their goal-setting strategy. This helps them learn that their interests and desires are important. It also gives parents a chance to spend more quality time with their kids.
2. Focus on Feeling Good
The rewards that adults receive from achieving their goals aren’t always the same as the consequences that teens crave. Young people may not be concerned with establishing financial security; they’re just learning how to enjoy spending the money that they earn.
Students may not see the benefits of applying themselves in school. Therefore, you’ll have to get creative when demonstrating the importance of setting goals.
One of the best lessons that you can teach a teen is to be comfortable with who they are. Society teaches children that they can “be whatever they want to be.” But the importance of being yourself isn’t always highlighted.
What we do becomes more important than who we are. We become teenagers and adults who are praised for productivity. Success becomes a measure of wealth or achievement instead of a meaningful aim that provides inherent fulfillment.
Make sure that you teach teens that goal setting allows them to be the best version of themselves. The details of their goals don’t matter as much as their growth. A goal-setting practice that focuses on intrinsic motivation helps children become confident in themselves.
Something that doesn’t feel good for teens is being forced to do something. They’re at a stage in life where they’re establishing their individuality. Therefore, offering a goal-setting strategy as a tool that will help them get what they want is more effective than telling them that goal setting is something that they must do.
3. Teach them the Importance of the Journey
People rarely achieve success in one huge leap. At the same time, you shouldn’t consider yourself unsuccessful just because you haven’t achieved your loftiest goals.
Defining success as an ongoing feeling is more effective than identifying it as an external consequence that you can only attain once. Most people think that they’ll feel successful when they have a certain balance in their bank accounts or achieve a particular title at work.
However, research shows that we often overestimate how excited we’ll feel when we reach an external goal. For that reason, attaining our goals is often anticlimactic. If you decide that you’re only going to be happy when you realize a specific objective, you’ll probably be sorely disappointed even if you are a high achiever.
That’s because the beauty is in the process, not the outcome. Teaching teens that it’s more important to live with integrity than to secure awards, recognition, fame, and fortune may help them be more satisfied with their lives.
To emphasize that the process is more important than the outcome, teens should write down their reasons for pursuing a certain goal. For example, wanting to get an A in Physics because you want to become an engineer is much different than getting a good grade because it’s important to your parents.
Understanding the “Why” behind your goals gives you motivation even when things get challenging. That’s because you dredge up emotions when you think about the reason that you want to achieve a particular objective.
Those emotions usually are associated with some kind of reward, such as praise, recognition, excitement or accomplishment. When you can draw on those emotions during hard or stagnant times, you’re much more likely to stay on track.
4. Foster Gratitude in Your Teen
If you really want a teenager to be successful, you should help them foster an attitude of gratitude. A teenager with a high sense of physical and psychological well-being may be more likely to achieve his or her markers of success. Moreover, he or she will be happier in life.
Research shows that adolescents who are grateful are more satisfied with their lives, including their neighborhoods, families and social circles. They’re more hopeful and less depressed than their more materialistic peers. What’s more, they are more passionate about their hobbies and have higher GPAs.
- Interpersonal connection
- Social competence
- More academic satisfaction
- Better mental health
- Emotional well-being
- Motivation for the future
5. Discover the Beauty in Failure
Failure is not defeat. In fact, it’s a healthy aspect of growth. Instead of viewing failure as a weakness, help your teen see it as a strength.
You might help teens feel better about making mistakes by sharing the experience that they had when they learned to walk. They probably didn’t cry when they fell down. Unless they are hurt, most kids don’t. Instead, they just get up and try again.
It’s unreasonable to expect a little one to walk on the first try. As a teenager’s mentor or parent, don’t get caught in the trap of presuming that an adolescent will make the best choices the first time around.
Setting goals lets you talk about failure consistently. When you regularly establish objectives for yourself, you’re bound to make errors or fall behind on deadlines. Getting a chance to practice this habitually makes someone better at managing failure.
This helps teens develop a growth mindset. They learn that they can change outcomes through their behaviors and their talents and skillsets aren’t set in stone.
6. Set Long and Short-Term Goals
Do you remember when we talked about identity-based goals above? We described a study that indicated that if you believe you’re a certain type of person, you’re more likely to set long-term goals and commit to them.
Big dreams are important. It’s vital to teach young people that they can harness any opportunity in life. So many adults grow up giving excuses that they’re a product of their environment. But you create your life by the intentions that you set and the actions that you take.
It might be daunting, however, for a teenager to see the path from where they are now to their big dream of being an actor or traveling around the world. Short-term goals are the baby steps that get teens from point A to point B.
Short-term goals are important because they:
- Confirm that you’re on the right track
- Result in less significant failure if something goes wrong
- Help you become confident that you’re adept at goal setting
- Can be broken down into the easiest steps possible
- Provide momentum
- Sustain motivation
- Let you visualize your next move
For teens, small actions are often better than big ones. They’re not as intimidating. Therefore, it’s easier to perform them consistently.
With consistency, you build a routine. Eventually, goal-setting becomes a habit. When you adopt this practice early on, it becomes a pattern that helps you flourish for the rest of your life.
Steps for Setting Teen Goals
We conclude this article with the specific steps that you can use to make this strategy a reality. Use the steps below as a checklist for approaching goal setting for teens.
1. Elicit the Teen’s Passions
Before bringing up goal setting, talk about what the teenager wants out of life. Discuss what makes them happy, and what they’re good at.
2. Introduce Goal Setting as a Tool to Make Life Easier
Teens are already overwhelmed with schoolwork and rules. Make goal setting sound like a fun activity that can streamline their lives and help them enjoy themselves more.
3. Identify What Kind of Person the Teen Wants to Be
Asking about the types of people that the teenager admires, whether it’s a celebrity, coach or friend, can help get this vein of thinking going.
4. Write Down a Goal
Use step 3 to help you come up with a goal. Work with the teen to make the goal specific and realistic. It
5. Break It Down Into Action Steps
Decide what tasks are necessary to achieve the goal. Is any learning involved? Write down all of the steps, and establish a deadline for each one. You might even want to write them on a calendar.
6. Ask for Help
Decide whether the teen will need help with any of the tasks. Gather your resources.
7. Take Action
Start performing the tasks that are necessary to reach the goal. Encourage your teen to reflect on the progress regularly. This is a great way to teach self-evaluation and independence.
Teens should reward themselves for reaching their goals. They can celebrate small wins as they progress toward the objective. They should also pat themselves on the back when they attain the goal.
If they don’t meet it, they should pride themselves on their progress. Reflecting on what went well gives them a chance to reward themselves. They can also ask themselves what didn’t go so well so that they have a stronger foundation to work from the next time.