Building the right habits and plans for goal setting can be totally overwhelming for anyone, but especially for teens. In our role as parents, we want to encourage our teens to be independent while they work on the life skills they will need for everything in the future:  planning, prioritizing, self-accountability. But when it comes to setting goals, all of us could use extra support.  The best way to help teens with their goals is to give them specific steps that they can follow easily and significantly increase their chances of success! 

Studies have shown a significant increase in the chances of success when you write down goals, but then even more when you share your goals and commit to weekly accountability:

95% Success with SMART Goals and Accountability

Because we want to give our teens the best chance possible at achieving success, we should also give them the tools to help them get more done while reducing their stress and feelings of overwhelm.

My own teens handle honors classes, competitive sports, and even theater and arts after school. They are as busy as I am during a normal work day. So when I found out from my research that teens are really ready to learn goal planning, accountability, and monitoring, I went all in with teaching my kids these tactics.

That’s why I’m sharing with you here some critical tips I’ve learned that have set up my kids for success.

Step 1:  Write Down Your Goals

Help Teens with Goals

Did you know that only about 8% of people reach their goals? What’s the first thing they do? They start with the end in mind!

Writing down goals gives you clarity and focus. It helps you make a plan to prevent doing a lot of busy work without results.

Goal setting contributes to improved performance in school, as well as other aspects of your teen’s life where they set goals. So pretty much everywhere.

It may seem like magic, but there are very good reasons for this.

Why writing down goals works

First, the action of actually spelling out a goal with a plan increases intrinsic motivation – as you create a plan and work your plan, it keeps you excited about what you’re getting done. That’s why people like to-do lists so much. It feels so good when you check something off your list, right? So when you set goals, and start seeing progress, you will feel more capable to continue improving your skills, or making progress on that science project.

Second, studies also show that, as you take action and see progress, it builds your confidence. And when you have confidence, it improves your performance.  You’re creating a virtuous cycle that when you take action, you gain confidence, and as you gain confidence, it inspires you to keep learning and keep setting new stretch goals.  A great book for kids on this topic is The Confidence Code for Girls.

But you also want to make sure that the goals are SMART!

When your teen writes down goals, you want to help them define goals in a way that is clear and it gives them direction. When goals are set without details, it ends up causing more stress and anxiety because your teen will feel like you should be making more progress, but they’re not. You may have heard the quote – A goal without a plan is just a dream. Having an idea of what you want is not enough. Creating a vision board is not enough. Writing down a general description of a goal is not enough. That’s why we love SMART goals so much, because the five components work together to give your teen the clarity and direction they need to make a plan and work the plan.

Their plan will give them freedom to act, they don’t have to rethink this over and over again. So the key is for your teen to define a goal in a way that gives them clarity, a plan to act on, and keeps them motivated.

SMART Goal Worksheet

When my own teens started learning goal setting, we created worksheets that simplified the process so they were easy to follow and were age appropriate. And we saw some amazing results from their hard work that summer. They didn’t need to learn how to become a project manager, they just needed some guidance on having a plan that would increase their chances of success!  Get your FREE copy here.

So just by writing down goals in a specific and clear way, your teen has increased their chances of success by 42%!

Step 2: Share Your Goals

When you share your goals with others, it’s almost like that’s what makes them real. Goals with Accountability Buddy

Same as us adults do better at our workouts or nutritional goals when you work on them with a buddy, or when you hire a coach, it’s the exact same for teens!  It stops being just something they wrote down on a planner, or entered on a mobile app for goal setting. Even our teens with big dreams and lots of motivation will do much better when they have an accountability buddy.  This person could be a friend, or a team member, or also a parent, coach or mentor.

Finding the right accountability buddy

When I worked with teens, either with my kids or other teens I was coaching, they had to share their goals with me, since I was their coach or mentor. My oldest son works closely with his tennis coach on a weekly basis, so he definitely shares his goals with his coach. In this situation, his tennis coach also helps him make sure his plan makes sense for the goals my son has set for himself.

Your teen may or may not feel comfortable sharing their goals with you.  So other options is to encourage them to find at least one person with whom to share their goals.

  • Do they have a friend or teammate who is also working on a similar goal, so they could work on their plans together and then share what they’re doing with each other?
  • If your teen is working with a sports coach, music coach, or mentor, could that be the person they share their goal with?
  • Do they have an advisor or mentor at school or at after-school activity to share their goal with?

Your teen should be able to share not just what their goal is, and hopefully their action plan to achieve it, but more importantly WHY that goal is important to them.

It’s critical to give our teens independence over choosing goals that truly feed their dreams, but teens will need support in terms of knowledge, resources, and motivation when they’re working so hard on many different challenges.  But ideally, you can start some simple conversations with them that will let you have some insight into their goals, while reassuring your teen that you are there to provide guidance and support, and lend a sympathetic ear when they feel frustrated, tired, or stuck.  But at the beginning, your teen could feel self-conscious or embarrassed about their goals, so give them space until they’re ready to share.

Maybe remind them that by sharing their goal they have now increased their chances of success to 62%!

Step 3:  Weekly Accountability

Progress from taking small steps

The final step in this magical process is to commit to specific weekly check-ins with your accountability buddy.

When your teens chooses their accountability buddy, they should share with each other what activities they will do to work on their goal. For a goal to become real, there has to be a real plan behind it with activities designed to get them closer to results.  This means that after your teen defines a SMART goal, they will know exactly what they need to do every day, how much time they’ve committed to working on the goal, and how they will know they’re making progress every week.

To boost the accountability with the buddy, your teen will have to schedule regular check-ins to chat about what they completed in the last week, and what their plans are for the following week.  This needs to be a time when both buddies give each other priority. Maybe they meet in person for coffee or while doing something else fun, to make sure that the check-in happens.  But the commitment has to be real for this to work.

For example:

  • If studying a new language, did they complete all the extra study sessions? Did they study the number of words they committed to?  Or did something distract them and it didn’t get done? If that’s the case, can they make it up the following week?
  • If the goal was to plan and execute a community service project, and it’s the first week of the plan, are all the tasks defined? Did the volunteer positions get defined based on the tasks needed? Are you ready to interview volunteers?
  • If preparing for the SAT in June, have they taken the first practice test? Have you started the suggested reading to build on the vocabulary? Have you worked on extra vocabulary words this week? What’s the plan for next week?

Hopefully it’s your teen’s self-motivation and desire to succeed, maybe combined with a little big of guilt from not letting down a friend, mentor, coach or parent. That’s totally fine. We don’t have good days all the time! We all need external support and motivation every once in a while to keep us going.

Accountability works, and it makes an even bigger difference in achieving success when we commit to a weekly check-in with our buddy, so you increase your chances of success by 76%!

Get ready to celebrate with your teen

Just the process of working on their goals will make your teen more confident, and their self-esteem will increase while they grow as a person. That alone is cause for celebration!

I want to stress how important it is for us as parents to support the effort and progress as much as reaching specific goals or milestones. Check out our recent article “How can I help my teen set goals and stay on track?” for great conversation starters.

Our teens should be setting goals that help them build their own future, and our job is to support their efforts, provide the resources they need, and guide them throughout this process so that we help them accomplish everything they can while minimizing stress and avoiding burnout.

More on Executive Functioning

For more resources on building executive functioning skills in teens, take a look at Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child “Executive Function Skills for Adolescents.”

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3 Steps Your Teen Can Do Right Now to Reach their Goals!
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