Teenage goal-setting can help youth increase self-confidence, develop their work ethic and build perseverance.
Goals give us something to work toward, purpose to keep us motivated and – with a little luck and a lot of hard work – something to celebrate.
Learning how to set goals is a vital skill for young people. After all, it's hard to get somewhere without knowing the destination you're heading to. Goals help teens focus on the journey to whatever they want to achieve, helping them to make plans, use their time and resources wisely, and identify the places where they may need some help.
Every day at Boys & Girls Clubs, teens consider new ways of planning for their futures, getting involved in their community and creating fun opportunities for their peers, all of which involve short-term goals and long-term goals to bring ideas to life. Caring adult mentors and innovative programs at the Club help them get a head-start on anything they can dream.
For teens, learning how to set goals has many benefits, such as:
Setting goals helps teens put action behind their ideas. These skills will serve them well personally, in school and in the workforce.
Coming up with a goal is easy, but creating an action plan to reach it can be challenging. SMART goals are a way to write goal statements that include the actual steps that you need to take to achieve the goal.
"SMART" is an acronym to help guide the goal-setting process. (And the good news is people all ages can use SMART goals!)
Goals should be:
When thinking of the goal they want to achieve, teens should check that it's a SMART goal, meeting the criteria above. Then, it's time to consider how they will measure the goal and within what time frame.
Ready, set, goal! Now that you know about SMART goals and the benefits of goal-setting for teens, here are five ways to support teens in their goal-setting efforts:
Model what goal-setting looks like in your life.
When your teen sees you set goals and work to achieve them, it’s one of their most direct ways to experience goal-setting. Be open with them throughout the process, share what steps you’re taking to achieve your goal and be candid about setbacks and changes. These conversations can be casual, but they show how much work you're putting in that your teen may not realize you're doing, helping your teen understand how something is earned with time and effort. An added benefit is you may find you have an accountability buddy or cheerleader in your teen as you tackle your own goal.
Some examples of goal-setting that adults can model for teens might include:
Make a plan.
Once they've decided on a goal to work toward, your teen should make a plan for how to achieve it. Writing it down often helps make it feel real and gives your teen a sense of accountability. A goal plan should include:
Let teens lead the way.
The best goals for teens are the ones teens pick themselves, plan for themselves and go after themselves. Self-driven experiences are often the most motivating and the most rewarding, with plenty of lessons to learn along the way. This is especially critical for teens who have a deep desire to be independent (and in a few years, will be).
Let them steer their goal-setting process, from choosing a goal to working toward achieving it (and adjusting their course when things don't go as planned). Along the way, they’ll pick up life skills and experiences, including hopefully knowing the satisfaction of a job well-done once their goal is reached. As their support system, check in from time to time on how their goal is going or be their sounding board when they're experiencing a setback, but otherwise lean out and let teens lead the way.
It’s OK if the goal changes.
Today's kids have a lot on their minds and busy schedules across academics, social life and more. It's OK if their goal changes. They may realize halfway through that they need more support or time than they anticipated, they feel overloaded with too many priorities, or that there is actually something else they'd rather be doing.
We've all experienced this at some point when working toward something. In the end, it's far healthier for your teen to acknowledge what's going on with them, share why something isn't working and how they're feeling about it, and make a plan to reset – instead of continuing to stress out over something because they feel they need to, that you are expecting them to, etc. However, if you find your teen consistently abandoning goals, dig into why that's happening with them and consider the SMART goals framework again.
Always celebrate when a goal is achieved.
In a busy world where we often maintain a rapid pace, it's never been more important to take time to celebrate. Ensure your teen takes time to celebrate a job well done, and as the adult in their life, be sure to model this in your every day. Since SMART goals have measurable milestones, be sure to notice and celebrate when a milestone is achieved, and go all-out celebrating achieving a long-term goal.
Examples of short-term goals for students might include:
Examples of long-term goals for students might include:
Goals help teens make a plan and go after it, building skills that will last a lifetime. Learn more about how Boys & Girls Clubs support young people in developing character and citizenship to be active contributors in their communities.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides mentorship, programs and meaningful life experiences that boost youth self-esteem, build confidence and contribute to overall positive and healthy wellbeing. Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest resources and stories.