How Setting Goals Helps Teens Succeed

Posted by: Erin Reuland

For many students, a new calendar year is just as important as the beginning of the school year.  It’s the ideal time to reflect on the past and prepare for the future. Whether it’s bringing up that letter grade from a C to a B or learning a new skill like how to play guitar, a new semester is full of opportunities for teens to learn and grow as individuals.

Teen girl and two boys huddling with Y basketball coach in gym.

No matter what the goal may be, the job of youth development professionals is to help all children and teens achieve success along the way. The best way to do this is to help them set, accomplish and celebrate their personal and academic goals.

  1. Encourage teens to set S.M.A.R.T. goals

    By setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and tangible (S.M.A.R.T.), teens are more likely to succeed and are better prepared to achieve larger goals down the road.

    A vague goal such as, “I want to do better in math,” makes it difficult to gauge progress or completion. On the other hand, a series of specific short-term goals such as, “I want to get a B on my next math test,” helps teens focus on what is needed to achieve the long-term goal without the discouragement of not succeeding right away.

  2. Develop an action plan

    Just like New Year’s resolutions, it is easy for youth to be excited about setting goals at first, but fall off-track or become less motivated as time goes on. Encourage them to hold themselves accountable by writing down the goals and creating an action plan to keep track of progress. This helps teens stay focused and keep moving forward. There are many free templates and worksheets for goal setting and action planning available online. 

  3. Frame goals through positive statements

    Taking an objective look at potential hurdles can help teens problem solve as they work toward success. Yet it’s important to encourage positive thinking around problems to avoid self-sabotage or discouraging thoughts. For example, if a youth’s personal goal is to learn how to play guitar, it is better to focus on the notes he or she has already learned versus the notes they have yet to learn. By expressing goals in positive terms, adults can help teens focus on progress, which will motivate them to stay committed to the course.

  4. How giving teens voice and choice leads to success

    Giving teens a voice to express their goals and a choice on how these goals should be achieved, whether personal or academic, helps them build decision-making and problem-solving skills they will need in the future.

  5. Reflect along the way

    Pausing to reflect boosts our ability to handle obstacles and barriers in the future. Be intentional about setting aside time for teens to discuss their goals and progress with staff and their peers. By celebrating success, teens may become more confident to set and pursue more challenging goals in the future. Similarly, acknowledging failures is an opportunity to learn and recalibrate for future goal-setting.

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