We all know the success rates for New Year’s resolutions are abysmal. We start the year off with so much hope and, just days later, are back to our old habits. Goal-setting is hard enough for adults. It can be even more difficult for teens, especially if they are facing other challenges, such as anxiety, depression or recovery.

Here are five things you can to do help your teenager set—and achieve—better goals.

  • Encourage passion. Arbitrary goals are abandoned goals. Although it’s tempting to push teens toward goals that we care about, it’s important for young people to choose goals that matter to them. Ask your teenager what they are looking forward to this year, what excites them, or what they’ve been daydreaming about lately. Passion is a much more powerful motivator than obligation! When teens set goals from the heart, they are more likely to stretch, work hard and achieve them.
  • Start small. Kids who are struggling may avoid setting goals because they doubt their own abilities. If your teenager is dealing with insecurity, start with ultra-achievable, bite-sized goals to build confidence. For example, if your child’s seemingly unachievable goal is to perform at an original song at an open-mic night, walk that goal backwards until you find a step they are reasonably confident they can accomplish. That could be writing one verse of a new song, sharing some lyrics with a best friend, or playing a song at a family gathering. When they complete a smaller goal, encourage them to choose another achievable goal-step forward.
  • Get it in writing. Recording goals can be clarifying and motivating. Use our downloadable goal worksheet to help your teenager formulate S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. This simple activity can turn a vague dream into a real plan. Encourage teens to post their goal worksheet somewhere they’ll see it every day and share it with a friend or family member. Both recording goals and sharing them with others can increase the likelihood of achieving them!

Goal Worksheet.

  • Praise the process. Remember to emphasize the steps your child is taking to accomplish their goal more than the end result. Praising things like determination, hard work, creative problem solving and persistence can help teens learn they are capable of tackling future challenges, regardless of how this particular endeavor turns out. Celebrate the skills built along the way. If your teenager faces a big setback, help them brainstorm ways to get back on track or reframe a more realistic goal, if necessary. Keep the focus on the journey, not the finish line.
  • Find allies. We all need role models. If your child’s goal is outside your own life experience, look around for other trusted adults who can be resources. Who can you recruit to give advice, share stories or provide feedback? This can be particularly helpful when it comes to more long-term academic and career goals. Talking with a “real person” a few steps down the road can widen a teen’s scope of possibility and give them proven paths to follow.

Practicing these five strategies can help you become your child’s biggest goal cheerleader. When it’s time, make sure to mark their goal milestones. Ask how they want to celebrate reaching their self-set finish lines, then do it up big!

Parenting a teen who’s having trouble identifying, setting or achieving any goals? Think it might be time to try residential therapy? Let’s talk about how Shelterwood can help your child find purpose again.