One of the greatest skills you can teach your teenager is how to set and, more importantly, how to achieve goals. Really, it is. It is also important to teach your kids the proper life skills they willl need when they leave the nest.
Unfortunately, teenagers are not known for their eagerness to take their parents’ advice nor are they generally clear on what they want for lunch, much less a year or four years from now. Now, before you roll your eyes at me and say, “Well, then, what am I supposed to do?” let me assure you that you setting the goal of teaching your teen to set goals is achievable. (See how I did that?)
If you believe this is a worthy skill, the first and best thing you can do is to model that behavior yourself. How you go about this is largely determined by what motivates you. For some people making their goals public and asking for support is what makes them work hard at a goal. For others, a more internally-driven approach is what works. One way to model goal-setting for your teen to ask for their input. The most successful way for me has been to wait until I have one of my sons alone in the car. (Remember, I’m the mother of boys, your mileage may vary with girls.) For some reason – I think it is the side-by-side thing over face-to-face – these car conversations go far better than talking over the kitchen table.
I’ll make an off-the-cuff remark like “Did you know I set a goal for myself to walk 10,000 steps a day?” He might not be too excited about this but plug on. Let him know that you are consistently 2000 steps short everyday and does he have any ideas about how you can up your steps by 500 each week. They won’t tell you, but kids this age love to be asked for “real” advice. If his advice is worthwhile, I’ll take it and give him short updates if it’s working. If it’s not working, I’ll ask him for new advice. And, there, you’ve modeled a behavior.
How does that translate into getting your teen to start setting goals? Treat him like a person who is capable of creating his own goals. If your teen has a certain passion, ask what he hopes to achieve with it. If he cannot put it into words, gently keep the conversation going until he can articulate an actual goal. If your ninth grader loves the trumpet and says he’d would like to be part of the All State Orchestra. Encourage him to find out what steps he needs to take to make that happen. Assure him that you will do anything reasonable to help him get there.
Give it a couple of days and ask what he’s learned. If he’s taken the steps to learn about how to qualify for the orchestra, congratulate him and ask him what the next step is. If he’s done nothing about it, ask him why. If he gives you excuses, go ahead and gently call him on those excuses. Ask if it might help him to talk the process through with you before making a plan. It can be a painful process but each baby step is teaching your teen that even things that seem insurmountable can be broken into manageable chunks. Once you’re through that first goal, your teen will have the rudimentary skills to keep setting goals and achieving them (or at least know that he did everything in his power to achieve them).
It might take a few tries to draw your teen into the world of setting goals, but once you get there, he’ll see the advantages. Knowing how to break enormous goals into mini-goals is a skill that will carry him throughout his adult life. Below are five tips to help you both get started.
- Set goals that are attainable. If your son is destined to be of or below average height, encourage him to pursue his love of basketball simply for the love of the game. Do not encourage him to dream of a basketball scholarship to his favorite university. Yes, every now and then a short player beats the odds. That’s a happy accident.
- As much as possible, make sure the goals are your child’s and not yours. While most kids will do what it takes to make their parents happy, they are going to be much more motivated to achieve a goal that they truly want to see through to the end.
- Let your teen decide how public he wants to make his goals. If your child is generally low-key and hesitant to share details with people outside of his own family, respect that. Don’t show up at a homeschool event talking about how “Ben has decided he wants to attend XX University.” Let Ben decide with whom he’ll share that information.
- Make sure you and your teen both know the difference between achieving a goal and simply crossing something off your to-do list. I had a roommate in college who used to tell her mother every Sunday night that she had finished every task on her to-do list. Her mother would brag to anyone in earshot when she came for parents weekend. The problem? My roommate – a sweet, fun girl – made a to-do list that read something like: Wake up, take shower, make bed, eat breakfast . . . Yes, she checked a lot of things off everyday, but what was accomplished? You should never congratulate your child for waking up each morning!!!! Goals are challenging. Accomplishing day-to-day tasks are simply part of being human.
- Failure is the key to success. Talk to anyone you know who has been successful an they’ll tell you about all the times they failed. It’s okay to set a goal and not achieve it. Most people learn a lot more by their failures than they do by their successes.
Teaching a teen how to set and achieve goals is not for the faint-of-heart! Make it your goal to do it anyway. Constantly remind yourself an your teen that the journey is just as important as the result. Failing to achieve a goal is not necessarily a total loss. You and your teen can do this!
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