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Why Teens Need Goals & How Adults Can Help (using the SMART framework)

Written by Cameron O’Brien, ACC

What Is Goal-Setting?

Goal-setting is the process of taking deliberate action steps in order to achieve a desired outcome.

When we set goals, we are intentional about focusing and executing on the things that matter to us most. Goal setting allows us to create a vision of what we’d like our life to be, and how we are going to achieve it.

Why Goal Setting Is Important for Teens:

Goal-setting is a critical element of self-management for adolescents and adults. When teens set and strive to achieve goals, they develop self-awareness, determination, resilience, self-esteem, and confidence along the way.

Several decades of goal-setting research suggests the practice is associated with numerous benefits across ages and ability ranges. For students, goal-setting is associated with positive academic benefits including deeper learning, motivation, and cognitive engagement.

For adolescents, goals and self-efficacy can relate to adult outcomes. A 2010 study by Ashby and Schoon revealed that young people who prioritized job advancement ended up making more money than their peers who did not set this goal.

When Teens Set Goals, They…

  • Gain awareness around their wants, needs, and desires
  • Develop their work ethic
  • Increase their internal motivation and determination
  • Learn what strategies help them succeed
  • Utilize the resources they have available
  • Advocate for themselves when they need help
  • Build their resilience when obstacles occur
  • Boost their confidence when they achieve their desired outcome

SMART Goals: Why They Matter and How to Help Your Teen Set Them

NOTE! Goal orientation is important to consider in the goal-setting process. Goals that are centered around gaining new knowledge and skills are considered to be part of a “mastery” goal orientation. Goals that focus on completing a task for an external reward, recognition, or status are considered a “performance” orientation. Goals that emphasize mastery are more likely to facilitate the development of a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation.

SMART is a widely accepted and effective framework that can help teens and adults reach their target goals. A SMART goal is one that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. We will focus in on each aspect of the acronym and provide tips on how to help your teen meet these markers.

S – Specific Goal

Goals that are too broad are less likely to be reached. Your teen needs to make their goal specific enough so that they can clearly define what they want to achieve and focus their efforts on doing so.

Ask your teen:

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What do you need to do to achieve the goal?
  • Who is involved in the goal striving process?
  • Where will the work take place?

M – Measurable Goal

Your teen should be able to quantify their progress towards the goal they are seeking. When they measure a goal, they can see the changes they are making in real time and are more likely to stay on track with the work.

Ask your teen:

  • How will you know when you are making progress towards your goal?
  • Why/ How will you track your progress?
  • When will you track your progress? How often?

A – Attainable Goal

The goal should be something that the teen is capable of achieving with hard work and persistence. If they set a goal that is too far out of their reach (capability/time wise), it won’t stick. Likewise, if the goal is too easy, they might not have the motivation to follow through.

Ask your teen:

  • On a scale from 1-10, how realistic is it for you to achieve this goal in your given time frame?
  • On a scale from 1-10, how capable do you think you are of reaching this goal?
  • What resources will you need to make progress towards this goal?

R – Relevant Goal

In order for your teen to be internally motivated to follow through on their goal, it needs to be self-derived. The goal must be personally relevant to them – it can even be a stepping stone to a larger goal.

Ask your teen:

  • Why did you choose this goal?
  • Why does this goal matter to you?
  • When you achieve this goal, how will it change your life?

T – Time Bound Goal

It is important to have a specific date or time period by which the goal would be completed. This timeframe can help your teen stay motivated and committed to the work it will take to achieve their outcome. Long-term goals can be broken down into shorter, time-based intervals for each action step.

Ask your teen:

  • When do you want to complete this goal by? Why?
  • How will you achieve this goal by the deadline?

Want to learn more about the importance of setting goals for teens? Check out our accredited youth life coaching courses for more information.

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