November 22, 2017

Help Your Teen Set Goals for the New Year by Diane O’Neil

Help Your Teen Set GoalsI really don’t like the word “resolution” and I never set any New Year’s Resolutions for myself.  The way I see it, if there is something I need to change about myself, I’m not going to wait until January 1 to make that change!  I better get on it right away!

If you realize you’re eating too much cake, or that cigarettes cause cancer, you should make those changes immediately.  Don’t wait for January 1.  Sadly, it’s become completely normal and accepted to flake out on our New Year’s Resolutions!  The gym is packed to the gills throughout the month of January, then a little less crowded in February, and back to only the regulars in March.

New Year’s Resolutions just don’t seem to stick.

However, I do see the value in setting goals.  Goals have a different feel than resolutions do.  Resolutions have a negative connotation, don’t they?  New Year’s Resolutions usually mean that you need to stop doing something you shouldn’t be doing.

  • I resolve to quit smoking!
  • I resolve to lose weight! (You know that January is the busiest month for health clubs, right?)
  • I resolve to stop spending so much money!

But a goal is different – it’s a long term plan.  It’s a positive step forward, an investment in your future!

A goal is a dream that has a plan.

Adults and teens will certainly have different goals, and different dreams.  As a working mom of three kids, some of my goals include:

  • Saving enough money to retire comfortably.
  • Paying off my house early.
  • Being self-employed.
  • Raising my children into healthy, productive adults.

I recently learned about SMART Goals, which really help determine what should be categorized as a goal.  You may think you have a goal, but what you really have is a dream, or even a task.

S                Specific
M              Measurable
A               Achievable
R               Relevant
T                Time-Based

SMART Goals force you to think about what your goals really need to consist of.  Instead of having a goal of, “I’m going to become rich!” you need to make sure you’re able to achieve a very specific goal within a determined time-frame.

For example, instead of a teen having saying, “I need to do better in school,” a school-based SMART Goal could be similar to this:

“I tend to put off doing big projects until the last minute.  For the upcoming Science Fair project, I will make sure that I have it done before the due date.  I will do a portion of the work (research, note taking, experimentation, assembling the board) every day.”

This is a great illustration of a SMART goal – it’s relevant to the student’s assignment, it’s definitely achievable, and it’s time-based because the student has a deadline for the project.

So, what would some other teen-aged goals look like?  In addition to academic goals, there may be the following:

  • Athletic
  • Financial
  • Extra Curricular

Teens can take the principles that make up the SMART Goals, and apply them to various aspects of their lives, and their future.


My youngest just started wrestling for the middle school team.  He’s never tried this sport before, but he LOVES it!  I’m glad, because, unfortunately, he has yet to win a match.  But he’s learning so much about the sport, and he’s thrilled when he comes close to a win.  As he learns and improves, he can use the SMART goal approach:

“For the next two weeks, I will focus on perfecting my half-nelson move.  I’ll practice with Jimmy four nights a week.  I’ll talk to the coach, and make sure that I know exactly how to do the move.  I’ll have it down by the next tournament!”


Your teen might be more of a worker than an athlete or someone who participates in extra-curricular activities.  That’s ok – everyone has different strengths and interests.  If your teen works part-time at the local movie theater or grocery store, make sure they have the goal of budgeting.  Here’s a good guideline:

“From each paycheck, I will put 50% into savings, and I will NOT touch it.  That’s specifically to pay for a car (or college, etc.)”

This is a wonderfully specific goal that is measurable and achievable.  While it may not exactly be “time-based” you and your teen can determine the amount of money you think is reasonable to spend on a first car.

HINT:  If you want to help fund a car, offer to match the amount of money that your teen saves!

Extra Curricular

Many teens are involved in extra-curricular activities such as band or scouting.  Our older scouts are working on Eagle projects, or Silver and Gold projects, which can become pretty overwhelming.  These are big projects that take a lot of time and planning.

The SMART Goals are perfect for planning an Eagle project.  Your teen needs to make sure they understand the demands of the project they choose.  They also need to be able to track their progress as they do their work, and have a definite end-date.

“For my Eagle project, I’m going to transform a vacant lot into a park that members of community can enjoy.  I will need to raise $2,000, ask for plant and flower donations, and recruit a team of volunteers.  This will be an eight-week project.”

While this is a big project, with the proper planning, hard work and time management it’s absolutely achievable.

When working with your teen on implementing SMART Goals, start slowly.  They don’t need to apply them to every part of their life immediately.  If they begin setting goals, and sticking to them, when they’re young, they’ll have a great head start for their adult life!


Diane O’Neil is a writer and mom from Allen, TX. She is the creator of  You Wont Learn This In School, which aims to teach teens and young adults valuable life lessons.



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