Using SMART Goals to Adapt to a Demanding World

Today’s world is so different than 20 years ago. There are higher expectations for accomplishing great things at an earlier age.  Getting straight A’s to get into a great college are just the beginning.  Every teen needs to perform highly in sports, music, or drama. They also need to make sure they stand out in their extracurricular activities with special talents and leadership skills. Learning how to set and work towards SMART goals could be the key to success!

SMART Goals for teensBut, no one teaches teens how to get all of this done.  They don’t know how to define goals in a way that they improve their chances of success.  This means they’re on their own to learn how to get organized and stay focused, while juggling many challenges with very limited time.

We’re all facing the same challenges

Our two kids are in middle school, very active in competitive sports, robotics programs, and community theater.  We were definitely struggling with how to make it all fit in.  It also seemed like every other parent we talked to have the same challenges:

  • Kids would get started in a new training program, and quickly forget what they needed to do or lost steam after just a few days
  • Kids get frustrated because they’re willing to work hard to work on a skill, but they feel like they’re spinning their wheels and don’t know how to get started
  • Parents feel like they have to nag their kids all the time to do the extra things they say they love to do, like workouts to prepare for a black-belt test or dance audition

As a project manager in consulting and software for the last 20 years, I tend to “project manage” my own kids and their activities, and expect them to be as organized and detailed as I learned to be through my work. I wasn’t sure when would be a good time to teach them some basic ideas that would help them with schoolwork and extra-curricular activities. But, when the oldest got to middle school, some of their own teachers were assigning semester-long projects and talking about milestones and interim due dates. Some of them looked suspiciously like a plan I would have helped my child put together for this type of project. 😉

Are teens really ready for SMART goals?

One of the best examples I’ve seen of this in my kids’ schoolwork was when a 6th grade science teacher gave my child a project with a breakdown of weekly tasks. The project was 8 weeks long, and each weekly task was assigned a separate grade. At the end, all the weekly tasks were used to create the final project board.  Every student knew exactly what to do every week, and how all the parts added together to create a great final product.

So, this got me thinking… Maybe this is the right age to introduce my kids to a basic version of the SMART goals methodology.  I learned it years ago, and business teams use them all the time to manage against objectives, stay focused, and hit their deadlines. I started doing some research, and found that middle school was absolutely the right time to start teaching teens and pre-teens goal-setting, planning and self-monitoring.

More Internet searches found very few resources in SMART goals for teens and pre-teens. There are helpful articles out there, like Goal Setting for Teens that have great insight into the concepts of why SMART goals are important and some high level strategies, but it seems that there aren’t many, if any, resources for teaching the tangible process of learning to set SMART goals, develop a specific plan to follow, and actually working that plan.

We started talking to our kids about this idea, and realized they understood how this could help them. And as long as we started with some simple plans, they wouldn’t feel like they had to learn complicated project management concepts just to plan and track their work.  We decided to stick to the basics, and created our own worksheets to make them age appropriate.

Our own approach to SMART goals for teens

Last summer was our first experiment in our teens using SMART goals to work on specific objectives.  Tennis training for my son… Dance training for my daughter.  They both wanted to take advantage of the summer break to improve their skills and be accepted into highly competitive teams in the fall.  We talked through their goals and actions together:

  • Specific: What, exactly, did they want to accomplish?
  • Measurable: How will you know it’s completed? Did you try out for the team and make varsity? Did you get an A in your science project?
  • Actionable: What will you do? What days of the week? For how many minutes each day?
  • Relevant: Why is this important? How will it make you happy?
  • Time-bound: Deadlines inspire action! You want to know exactly when you want to reach your goal.

I did a bit of coaching about what was too much or too little time for an activity each day. For my tennis player, 5 minutes of jumping rope every week doesn’t do much for your agility. But it’s also not necessary to do a full hour.  And for my dancer, 20 minutes of stretching every day is better than 2 hours once a week. We also talked through having stretch goals that pushed them to work harder, but also keeping them realistic.

Once they had their own plans, off they went!  They printed out the worksheets and taped them to their bedroom walls.  Every single day, they knew what to do, and how much time they needed to work on their tasks. And by sticking to their plans, they could see clear improvements every week, which inspired them to do more.

And what was the best part?

Well, there were a few “best parts” that came out of using SMART goals with worksheets over the summer.

  • My middle schoolers worked on their goals for a couple of hours every day, during the whole summer. This gave them ownership over their activities AND gave me time to get my work done.
  • The SMART goals worksheets gave them the tool to track their own tasks. Without me nagging them. And if they got off track, they knew what to do to make up the work.
  • Their teachers and coaches saw faster improvements every week and encouraged them to keep working hard. This brought smiles to their faces.
  • By going writing down their own clear goals, they worked on what was really meaningful to them.
  • At the end of the summer, they both got accepted into the teams that they wanted! And they’re well on their way to even greater achievements this year!

So that’s our story! We are building a community of parents, teachers and coaches on Facebook to hear stories from other families. We can help each other out by sharing stories, challenges, and resources.

If you want to try out SMART goals with your teens, download our free SMART Goals for Teens Worksheets.

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SMART Goals Can Help Your Teens Too!

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