One of the best ways to raise your teen into a responsible adult is by teaching him or her to set and meet goals.
The words “teen” and “goal” sound like an oxymoron. They just don’t seem to go together! Whether it be about grades, athletics, art, friendships, self care or spiritual values, goals aren’t high on most teens’ radars. Yet the adolescent who learns the value and habit of having good goals is ahead of the game as he prepares for life and the real world.
It’s important first to understand why most teens are anti-goals. Remember that they are in the middle of separating out who they are from their parents. They are working on their identity, values and attitudes: which ones are truly theirs and which ones they will challenge. And to the teen mind, goals=parents. It sounds like following rules, being controlled, not being free and a host of other things that teens are pushing against. At the same time, teens do need to become goal-based people. So here are some tips that will help.
Have the conversation about goals in terms of what is important to her life, positively. How will a goal of good grades on the report card be helpful to the teen? Because it shows that she is on the way to a good future in college, vocational training or career. She will have a better, more productive and more successful life if she makes good grades.
Have the conversation about the negative aspects as well. There is a negative motivator here too. There should be consequences for behaviors that don’t show effort or achievement. My wife and I have taken away all sorts of privileges from our kids when they don’t make the grades we thought they should have. To have a kid who doesn’t save money and is always broke is another issue. The worst thing you can do is to bail her out. Instead, tell her you’ll help her see how to set savings goals so that next month she can go out with her friends or buy that pair of jeans or whatever. So goals are important for the pleasant things they bring, and the unpleasant things they help her avoid!
Use stretch goals. Goals aren’t valuable unless they stretch us out of our comfort zones. So help them think about things they want in life that they can’t pull off now. It will take work, effort and time, but then they will feel empowered and confident that they met their stretch goals. On the other hand, stretch goals must be realistically attainable, so the teen doesn’t feel defeated and discouraged. Help him with the balance.
Show them what goals have done for you. Some teens just don’t see the value because their parents haven’t opened up that part of their lives to them. Telling them you have weight goals, vacation goals, personal growth goals, etc, and how you go through the process, can be an eye opener for the teen. You are enculturating him to something that is normal to you, but maybe not to him. When I showed my kids my goals for how I give to charity, they had never thought about it in that way before, and they began to work on their own giving plans.
Give them a structure. Goals require a simple path for the teen to understand. Walk through this with him so he begins to learn how to think this way. For example, have him start a Word document called “Goals” that has the following parts:
- Area of life (grades, weight, finances, etc)
- Goal: I want to accomplish X
- Time: By this date
- Reason: I want to do this because I will get the following benefit for myself
- How: I need to do X weekly to accomplish this (study 2 hours a day, save $5 a week, etc)
- Resource: I need my parents/friends/small group mentor’s help and accountability to do this, so I will tell them weekly how I am doing
There are lots of ways to do this, but this is a start. The idea is that it is movement, and good things happen when there is movement.
Avoid the trap of giving rewards for meeting goals. Goals should be about what is important to your teen. Don’t pay them to meet goals. That doesn’t prepare them to face reality as adults. When you showed up for work on time today, did anyone throw a party for you? That didn’t happen to me either. Just tell them congrats, job well done and help them celebrate their accomplishments and feel good about them.
My only exceptions for reward is when (1) a kid really knocks it out of the park, an extremely high achievement; or (2) a teen works extremely hard and shows great diligence and effort. A small reward is appropriate then. There is a difference between normal expected behavior and superlative behavior.
Your teen needs goals, and she needs adults who help her with goals. Be that person!