How to Motivate Teens in Goal Setting

In a world full of distractions, it is very easy for teens to lose a sense of direction in life. Teens not only deal with academic pressure at school and most of the times bear the expectations of parents and family to stand out from the crowd, they also have to manage their social relationships with friends/boyfriends/girlfriends, cope with bullies, navigate through the changes happening in their physical bodies, juggle extracurricular commitments and often face body image issues. For some, additional stresses could be life challenges, such as leaving school, moving cities/countries with their families, or getting into tertiary studies or employment. With so much going on around, it isn’t fair to leave them to sort out the major goals of their lives by themselves. Parents and caregivers could offer the necessary support to nudge their children on the path of growth.

Goal setting not only helps teens develop a growth mindset, it also teaches them how to stay organized or demarcate their time effectively, and promotes self-efficacy, accountability and self-motivation.

There are several tried and tested ways parents and caregivers can partner with teens and support their passions and interests. Here’s what you can begin with:

  1. Take the focus off yourself – A lot of times parents attempt to live their dreams through their kids. Do not think of this exercise as a means to control your teen and make them fulfil your dreams. Rather, encourage your teen with statements such as “this is your goal/your baby and I will support you any which way you want me to.”
  2. Steer clear of words like “should” or “must” – Teens do not like to be controlled; they are way past the age where they will lean on parents for every small thing in life. To encourage them with dreams, avoid dictating terms and telling them they “should” chalk out their goals. A preferable way could be, “sounds like you are interested in improving your French so you can participate in the student exchange programme in the next semester. This sounds awesome; would you like me to help you create a plan?”
  3. Support in making the goals specific and actionable – More often than not, teens are not aware that their goals are not specific or measurable. If their goal is “to make to the inter-school soccer competition” the parents can bring it their knowledge that this power rarely lies with the kids; instead, it lies with their coach or school principal. Praise the kid for the intent of the goal. Post that, teach them how to focus on developing those qualities and attributes that would ensure they are ready for playing at the required level. So, parents can help teens ‘revise’ their goals to focus on aspects like improving ball control, passing accuracy, spatial awareness, tactical knowledge, among others. Help the child prepare a weekly chart where they can score themselves with the help of a coach/adult across various aspects.
  4. Have them uncover the motive behind the goal – It has been observed that a vast majority of teens would like to do something on account of peer pressure. “If I master the guitar, I will look cool”, or “If I speak a new language, the girls/boys will be attracted to me”. As parents, it is imperative we help the kids see the real value of their goal. Keep asking them the “why” behind their goal and sharing personal experiences until the teen is able to understand the real worth of the goal and how it will help shape and nurture their life ahead.
  5. Demonstrate the power of writing it down – Research indicates that people are 33% more likely to achieve their goals if they write them down. Encouraging teens to write down their goals in a journal, their secret diary or anywhere really can bring an instant boost to the goal setting process. If your teen is a visual learner, encourage them to find pictures that could accompany their written goal. With the kind of inroads technology is making in the lives of our children, don’t be surprised if they want to use goal setting apps instead; it’s good progress as long as the goals are being documented somewhere.
  6. Prepare teens for potential challenges – While creating a plan, encourage your child to come up with a couple of scenarios that would create an obstacle. Some studies have shown imagining challenges/obstacles can help improve time management and reduce stress.  After you ask your teen what things could get in the way of your goal, encourage/work with them to find a mitigation strategy. For instance, the kid could highlight a challenge as “I would be too tired to practise soccer after finishing school.” A possible solution could be “I will go to have a snack and take a 30 min nap right after school on the days I train”
  7. Have them pick a “partner”- Periodic check-ins with someone about the progress on goals can help keep up the momentum and help stay on track. People who have an accountability partner or a “goal buddy” are able to achieve their goals significantly more than those who don’t. Encourage your child to identify a partner who can support them stay the course and get guidance from. It can be any adult in the family or even another teen’s parent.
  8. Allow your teens to change or even abandon their goals – It might be difficult to see your teen have a change of heart or when he/she is thinking of abandoning the goal altogether. If you see the change is happening because of factors other than display of lack of perseverance, hard work and focus, let them go through with it. For instance, if the child has had no passion or flair for music but had joined the school band on account of peer pressure and now wants to withdraw, let them. Let the child see the value of redirecting the life at the right time and making choices that frees up their time for something that is more important and worthwhile to them. 

Goal setting is a life long journey. Done right, it can make one have a better handle on day-to-day life choices, help sustain a momentum, and promote a sense of self-mastery. The earlier our kids can embrace this life skill, the better. Without concrete goals, they can't manage what they don't measure and they can't improve upon something that they don't properly manage. In the midst of teaching our teens the value and ways of goal setting, we ourselves could surely pick a trick or two.

How do you motivate your teens to set goals? We would love to hear.