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 and nag, lecture and cajole him back in the right direction.
But then I realized that this wasn’t really 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 to not still be living at home when he was 30. Anything beyond that had to be driven by his initiative and vision.
He was growing up and it was time to shift more responsibility for his future onto his shoulders.
A day or two later on a ride home from school I said this to him, “You’ve told me over and over that you want to go to a pretty competitive college and if possible you really 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 really 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 you’re the one who has 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 is 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 there is actually science out there that shows writing down your goals can almost double the likelihood that you’ll achieve them.
This is why it’s so important that we encourage our teens to set goals (and write them down)
At the beginning of every school year, or at a point where maybe things seem to be going off the rails a little bit, it’s a good idea to discuss your teen’s expectations and goals. Oh, and not only about academics, but also any extracurricular activities, social issues/friendships, and even their behavior at home.
Notice I used the word “Their” instead of “Our”.
This isn’t about YOU making goals for your kid. This is about allowing your kid to take the lead and come up with their own goals.
Yes, you can guide them through the process, but it isn’t your place to make decisions for them in this particular conversation.
As kids get older, a life skill they must learn is how 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.
Goal-setting is a healthy, productive habit and helping your teen learn how to do it now will benefit them for years to come.
How To Help Your Teen Set Goals For High School Success (And Beyond)
Walk your teen through the following steps to help them evaluate these four primary areas of their lives. Give them the chance to strategize realistic expectations for the year ahead. Maybe your teen might have more than four areas, that’s fine, throw them in there too.
You may need to guide them a bit at first in terms of not setting too many goals or making the goals clear and attainable. But they’ll catch on and it can become a yearly practice for them.
Discuss your teen’s class schedule and ask what they think of their classes this year. 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 doable solution to work on for the year.
You can suggest ideas but let them ultimately decide what’s best.
Ask your teen how things are going with their friends. Who is in their classes this year? Which friends do they have lunch with? How are they getting along with that one friend that they had trouble with last year? Do they worry about any particular peer group stressing them out?
Do they struggle with a particular social issue that need to be addressed? What social events are they excited about and which ones do they want to attend this year? Which ones does they want to avoid and why? (Football games, dances, trips, club events etc) Are there any changes they might need to make in their friendships or peer groups? Have them take the lead.
Talk about all the extracurricular options your teen might be considering (activities/clubs/sports etc). Do they have any firm ideas on what would be best to pursue? What are their interests? What are they good at?
Help them choose what will work best for their personality and schedule. Then talk about how they plan to manage their time and to fit in academics and household 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.
Ask how your teen feels about keeping up with chores, family obligations, and rules such as curfew, phone use, etc. Do they understand why it’s important to adhere to these rules and follow through on their responsibilities?
What is challenging for them to accomplish? Are there ways to make their behavior more successful and reliable at home? Would they suggest any changes, and if so, what and why? Try to understand their view and work together to create something workable for the family and acceptable to them.
These conversations might continue through a few dinners, coffee chats, or even ice cream runs, depending on how long they go, but they are important. 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.”
This post was contributed by Christine Carter who writes at TheMomCafe.com, where she hopes to encourage mothers everywhere through her humor, inspiration, and faith. Her work is published on several various online publications as well. She is the author of “Help and Hope While You’re Healing: A woman’s guide toward wellness while recovering from injury, surgery, or illness.”