Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tips on Setting and Obtaining Goals for Teens

Ivana Pejakovic, B.Sc., MA

Does your teen have goals? What are these goals? Would you know how to help set her up for success?

Just like anything in life, teens must learn how to set goals in order to obtain them. This isn’t a process we naturally know (and that is one reason why we hear about people who don’t achieve their objective...they never learned how to). Teens must actively learn and practice how to set ourselves up for success.

When teens (and adults) decide they want to achieve something, they tend to jump right into it without thinking about the logical steps to complete it, exploring the many opportunities available, and what to do when obstacles come up.

Most teens don’t understand that the planning process is as important as taking physical action toward completing the goal. When they have a plan of action in mind along with a plan to overcome obstacles, they gain confidence, motivation, and the will to complete it so they can benefit from the results.

When teens don’t create a plan (especially for the larger goals), they’re more likely to feel confused, without a direction, and the end result becomes hopeless. They have an overall idea of what to do, but are not sure of the immediate steps to take (sometimes the steps that appear logical will take them to a dead end). This is when it’s easy for them to start losing the excitement to get the goal done.

If your teen is setting New Year resolutions, help her through the process. Do the research together and offer a goal of your own so you have something you can work on together.

Here are steps to help you out with the plan to obtain the goal. As an illustration, I will use the goal “To make some money” as an example. We will use my modified SMARTER approach to goals to guide us.

SMARTER Goals

Specific. The first thing you may have noticed is the goal to ‘make some money’ isn’t specific. According to this goal, even if your teen makes $10 she has succeeded because she has made some money. The question is, is she happy with that? My guess isn’t as this isn’t what she had in mind. Guide her to pick an amount that is feasible but will make her happy. Ask her, how much money she would like to earn during a certain period. Set the bar high enough so she’s challenged but not overwhelmed. This way she’ll feel satisfied once her goal is achieved.

Measurable: How will your teen measure her progress to ensure she’s staying on track? It can be overwhelming to think about the big picture all the time, so it’s important your teen has little targets to work through. These little milestones need to add up to the full amount at the end of the defined period. If they don’t add up, she’ll not reach her expected amount. Guide her to break up the segments into appropriate amounts. For seasonal jobs she may expect to earn better during some months, and not so much during other months.

Attainable: The goal must be attainable. How will you and your teen know if it’s attainable or not? One way is to look at the amount of hours she can work given school and other commitments. It’s important to get the desired amount right. If it’s too low, it won’t be satisfying, if it’s too high it’ll be overwhelming and she may give up without giving herself a fair chance to earn a feasible amount. More important, she may consider it a failure. [Note. Successful goal setting and obtaining should not cut into other responsibilities.]

Realistic: This is the section where she defines HOW she’ll earn this money. She needs to create the steps that will get her to the endpoint and provide the chronological order of steps to be taken. For example, will she be working one job or several? If it’s several, ask her to write down how much she expects to earn from each position. What does she need to do to attain this goal? Get her to list the steps. Is she willing to do these steps no matter what or are there conditions attached? This all needs to be figured out at this stage so she doesn’t have to deal with it last minute. Make the plan doable and realistic.

Timely: Ask her to set a deadline. By when does she hope to earn this money? It’s best to set a specific month, day, and year when possible. Keep the deadline proportionate to the amount of money she hopes to earn. [Note. For some goals the due date will be chosen for her and she won’t have much say as to when she wants to finish e.g., submitting university/ college applications.]

Empowerment: Working towards goals can be challenging. When it gets really tough or your teen feels unmotivated and is tempted to quit, what will she use to get herself back in goal achieving mood? What will she do to regain control? What thoughts will she need to think? What will she need to focus on (e.g., results, outcomes)? Challenges and setbacks can be expected, so guide her not only to be prepared for them but to learn to empower herself. This can be her motivator when she’s feeling overwhelmed or is debating whether she should pick up an extra shift when she has the time.

Relevant: Why is this goal important to her at this stage in her life? What are the benefits of completing this goal? Ask her to create a list of what she’ll gain by completing this goal (think of the psychological benefits too, e.g., self-pride, self-confidence, feeling successful). This will help her weed out goals that are not of benefit to her and to choose wisely.

Best Wishes to You and Your Family!

Ivana Pejakovic, Life Coach in Toronto

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