Shortly after starting his first year of high school, it became clear to me that my teenage son wasn’t setting himself up for success.
He had big dreams, but his actions weren’t sending him down the path that he said he wanted to follow.
My first instinct was to jump in, which probably would have sounded like nagging, lecturing, and criticizing.
But then I realized that this wasn’t going to help him.
It also made it seem like these were my expectations of him, not his own. All I wanted was for him to be happy and to not still be living at home when he was 30. Anything beyond that had to be driven by his initiative and vision.
How do high school students benefit from goal setting?
Having goals helps students focus and create a set of achievements during a specific time in school. This means students can learn to focus their time and resources more effectively, which is an important life skill. It also can help teens who suffer from a lack of motivation during these years, or who feel like they are spinning their wheels for nothing. By referencing goals, they can see how far they have come in a short time.
In my son’s case, he was growing up, and it was time to shift more responsibility for his future onto his shoulders.
One day, on a ride home from school, I said to my son, “You’ve told me over and over that you want to go to a competitive college, and if possible, you want to play a sport for that college. These are great goals, but do you think the choices you’ve made so far are really going to help you reach those goals?”
There was a long silence. Then a begrudging mumbling of “probably not.”
“Listen, I don’t want to hassle you. As your mom, I care about you achieving what you are hoping for in life. But I can’t make it happen for you. Dad and I will always support you, but you’re becoming a young man and have to take the lead at this point.”
Still more silence.
“So, how do you think you can get things back on track?” I asked him.
He started throwing out a few ideas, but they were pretty random at best. This was when I suggested that he write his goals down on paper and list some of the things he would need to do in high school to meet them.
Sure, at first he rolled his eyes at me. But I explained to him that science shows that writing down your goals can almost double the likelihood that you’ll achieve them.
Setting actionable goals is a great way to help high school students learn accountability.
Goal-setting is a healthy, productive habit, and helping your teen learn how to do it now will benefit them for years to come.
At the beginning of every year, talk about setting high school goals. It’s a good idea to discuss your teen’s short-term and long-term goals, not only about academics but also any other important aspect of their life, such as sports, activities, post-graduation, jobs,
Notice I used the word “their” instead of “our.”
This isn’t about YOU making goals for your kid. This is about allowing your student to take the lead and come up with their own goals.
Yes, you can offer guidance through the process, but it isn’t your place to make decisions for them in this particular conversation.
As kids age, they must learn to take responsibility for accomplishing their goals. When they come up with their own plan, they will more likely invest in working on it.
You are training your teen to be a grownup, and at this stage of the game, you want to teach them how to prepare, plan, and anticipate challenges that may lie ahead.
How to start goal-setting for high school?
As you talk to your teen about the goals they would like to achieve, try to walk your teen through the following steps to help them evaluate these four primary areas of their lives.
Give them a chance to strategize realistic expectations for the year ahead. Your teen may have other areas they want to focus on, but this will give you a place to start.
You may need to provide examples at first or guide them on how to figure out what types of goals make sense, but they’ll catch on. Hopefully, the end “goal” is that this becomes a yearly practice for them and they will see how effective goal setting benefits their mindset.
Discuss your teen’s class schedule and ask them how they feel about their academic load.
Are they nervous about the rigor? Have they heard good things about their teachers? Are there some classes that look tough? Others that sound interesting? Maybe some that will be boring? What might be the biggest academic challenge they will face this year?
Based on last year, are there any changes they might want to make to be more productive in their studies? How are their study skills? Is time management a problem?
Let them take the lead in identifying one challenge they face and one manageable solution to work on for the year.
One suggestion, try not to link every goal to an achievement, such as earning an A in a challenging class with a tough teacher. Instead, try to link goals to growth, so maybe it’s studying for 30 minutes each night in chemistry, learning how to craft a better essay or turning every homework assignment in on time.
While earning a certain grade is great, a true growth mindset comes from being satisfied with our own progress along the journey.
You can suggest ideas, but let them ultimately decide what’s best.
High school can be hard for many students, and many feel like their opportunities for personal growth are limited.
Encourage your teen to look at the way they spend their downtime. Do they feel like they are on their phone too much? Do they participate in class? Do they feel like they have a good routine? Are they constantly late? Do they give-back time to their family or their community?
Personal goals can help us be more productive, happier individuals.
Some teens want to join every sport and activity available, and others find the notion of staying after school appalling.
Parents can help their teen by encouraging them to find a wide variety of outside interests, and helping them connect to others who share them.
Talk to your child about their passions and how they would like to spend their free time. Don’t get offended at the answers, but instead, try remain curious.
Perhaps they want to get a job to save money for a car (a great goal) but do not know how they can get there and back. Or, maybe they want to try to get a spot in the school play. It may even be starting a new club at school.
Whatever the end-goal, try not to poo-poo on it, even if you know your son won’t be the captain of the football team. Instead, help guide them to a more realistic, measurable goal that is not dependent upon others. This could include demonstrating a strong work ethic, outside training, or volunteering for extra work.
Help them choose what will work best for their personality and schedule. Then talk about how they plan to manage their time and how to fit in academics and other responsibilities.
Ask about any challenges they might anticipate with what they will be participating in, then help brainstorm a plan to help make their involvement successful.
This might be their least favorite, but it is one you can do together.
This is a good time to link back to their personal goals and how these can be achieved through home responsibilities.
What in the home are they struggling with, and what could the family do better to support them? What would be a reasonable time to set aside for household chores? How can home responsibilities strengthen their ability to accomplish other goals?
Stay open-minded and try to understand their view and work together to create something workable for the family and acceptable to them.
Start with SMART Goals
The SMART Goals framework, also written as S.M.A.R.T Goals or SMART Objectives, is an acronym for setting specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based goals.
This framework was initially used in business settings but is now standard in education.
SMART goal setting looks like this:
- Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
- Achievable (agreed, attainable).
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
- Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).
When you use SMART, you can create clear, attainable and meaningful goals, and develop the motivation, action plan, and support needed to achieve them.
Check out these examples of SMART goals from The Helpful Professor
Remember, goals can be fluid
Goals don’t always have to be written in stone, especially for young students. Also, while they should set a specific time period for the goal, make sure they know that their timeline can also be flexible. The satisfaction will hopefully come more from the process than the accomplishments.
As a parent, you have the opportunity to help your teens be creative and have fun. Goal setting can be a learning process for you both, involving a lot of critical thinking and self-reflection.
Try to model the behaviors you want to see as well. It may be sharing some life goals with your child, or perhaps even creating a bucket list you can do together. You can also help them create a vision board so they can have a constant reminder of what they are working towards. Anything that helps them with action steps to move their goals forward is fantastic.
Helping your teen prepare for the upcoming year with specific goals will establish the groundwork for a successful year. There may be more than one challenge to address in any of these areas, so allow your teen to talk through each one and listen patiently and value their ideas, struggles, and plans.
Remember, you are helping your kid grow to understand their own needs while planning ahead and evaluating what works best for them to succeed. Offer suggestions, but remember you are teaching your teen how to make wise decisions and sometimes that means allowing them to learn along the way.
The more you empower your teen and support their ideas, the more they will take ownership of their behavior and be self-motivated to accomplish their goals.
In the end, that’s exactly what you want, right?
Do you have an incoming high schooler? Dear Future 9th Grader: The High School Survival Guide for Academic, Social, and Personal Success is a great book for the anxious and worried freshman. Written by a teen, this book shares the practical tips and strategies she wish she knew before she started 9th grade. “I don’t have all the answers, but I’m hoping this book will make the next few years a little less stressful and little more fun.”
Raising teens is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone. Here are other posts parents found useful:
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