There are significant benefits for teenagers who set goals. Goals can teach the difference between wants and needs, motivate teens to challenge themselves, and teach them to ask for assistance when necessary.
Goals can also help teenagers learn to plan ahead, own mistakes, improve organizational skills, and instill a sense of achievement. However, not all goals are created equal and proper steps need to be taken to accomplish goals.
Keep reading to learn the most effective goal setting strategies and what types of goals are appropriate for this age group.
Teenage Goal Setting Strategies to Help
Daydreaming comes naturally, but goal setting does not. A difference between goals and dreams is that goals require taking action, while dreams do not.
Setting goals isn’t an inherent skill. It needs to be learned and practiced. The strategies below help teenagers practice setting achievable and worthwhile goals.
1. Focus on Quick Wins to Get Started
Teens need to get some “quick wins” when they start setting goals. For adults and teenagers alike, sometimes a fear of failure can prevent us from working on a goal.
If you don’t try, you can’t fail, right? These easier goals give teenagers confidence they can accomplish harder ones.
For example, saving a substantial amount of money may seem daunting and unattainable. A quick win would be to sign up for a savings account. That one step makes them closer to their goal than they were before.
Checking something off one’s to-do list that can be done in a short amount of time proves a certain level of capability. Plus, quick goals fight against procrastination. It’s easier to convince yourself to do something that will take only a few minutes than it is to start a long-term project.
2. They Want Freedom to Set Their Own Goals; Provide Suggestions & Structure
You’ve seen it before. The parent who wanted to be a famous athlete or actress and decided to push that dream onto a child. It’s essential teenagers have the autonomy to create their own goals.
Parents are still valuable in providing goal suggestions as long as they don’t force them. Ask questions, such as, “Why did you choose this goal?” and “What steps do you need to take to reach this goal?” Teaching the components of what makes a strong goal is also useful.
To have the best chance at accomplishing goals, they should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely (SMART). Vague goals, such as “try harder in school,” aren’t as effective as specific goals, such as “turn in all my assignments on time.”
To test a goal’s measurability, consider asking, “How will you know when you’ve accomplished this goal?” Unrealistic goals, such as getting 100% on every test, can instill a sense of failure if not accomplished. Goals should be more realistic.
Finally, goals work best with a clear timeline, rather than being indefinite. If a goal never ends, you never get a sense of accomplishment from completing it.
Encourage goals to be ones inside a teenager’s control, rather than somebody else’s. For example, replace the goal “get the lead in the school play” with “have my audition monologue completely memorized.”
Once goals are established, teenagers should write them down to increase their chances of success.
3. Help Them Understand Costs & Benefits
Teenagers need to consider possible challenges and benefits of their goals. Some goals require money. For instance, a young adult may want to attend a basketball camp over the summer to improve his or her chance of making the varsity team the following academic year.
If you’ve agreed this is a cost the teenager will be required to cover on their own, you can help them calculate how long it will take to make the money, whether from an allowance or a part-time job.
Costs aren’t all monetary. If a teenager’s goal requires waking up earlier, it may not occur to him that a potential downside may be needing to go to bed earlier and missing out on previously enjoyed late-night activities.
There may also be more benefits to certain goals than originally realized as well. While the primary goal of babysitting may be to earn more money, chasing around young children may also provide physical benefits.
A teenager considering volunteering for a cause she believes in may not realize she could later ask an adult from the charity to write her a college recommendation letter.
Fully understanding the costs and benefits of goals will help teens determine if a goal is worth it, and if so, how to prepare for it.
Example Goals for Teenagers
Many teenagers’ goals fall under the categories of financial, academic, and more general “life goals.” Always having a few goals from each category keeps teens motivated and well-rounded.
→ Teen Money Goals
Many people start their first jobs as teenagers. It’s fun to use disposable income as soon as it hits a bank account, but it’s better to use some of the money towards both short-term and long-term goals.
Popular short-term money goals for teenagers may include:
- Get hired for a first job
- Earn enough to buy a prom dress, new electronic, etc.
- Earn money from a side hustle
- Set up a savings account this month
- Open an investment account this month
- Track your stocks and investments
- Download a financial app to track spending
- Apply to one new scholarship this week
While short-term goals keep teenagers motivated to earn money and teach valuable financial lessons, it’s never too early to work towards long-term financial goals.
Teenagers should consider saving money for higher education, a home down payment, and even retirement. Teach teenagers the power of compound returns and how investing even small amounts of money when they are younger can lead to substantial amounts later.
→ Teen Life Goals
Life goals for teenagers will vary broadly based on their current interests. Some examples of these life goals may include:
- Getting a driver’s license
- Traveling abroad
- Trying a new sport
- Acting in a play
- Learning to cook a favorite dish
- Keeping a journal
- Writing a novel
Encourage teenagers to develop skills they will need when they live on their own, such as cooking, cleaning, setting their own schedules, budgeting, and car maintenance.
Also, remind them of other steps that may need to be taken prior to achieving a life goal. For example, traveling to a new country requires saving money. Depending on the country, immunizations may be needed and it might be helpful to know the basics of another language.
→ Teen Academic Goals
Academics are a significant part of a teenager’s life in high school and it continues to be so for those who attend college or a trade school. There are many beneficial academic goals teens may make, such as:
- Making honor roll
- Graduating high school
- Visiting college campuses
- Applying for financial aid
- Getting accepted into college
- Earning a scholarship
- Securing an internship
Some teenagers love creating academic goals, while others consider everything academic-related to be a necessary evil they must get through until they are hired for their dream jobs. Either way, it’s essential teenagers identify as lifelong learners.
A study conducted by professor Gary McPherson aimed to determine what helps children progress faster than their peers when learning an instrument. Before their first music lesson, students were asked how long they thought they would play their instruments. They could answer:
- Until the end of the year (short-term commitment)
- Through elementary school (medium-term commitment)
- For the rest of your life (long-term commitment)
The children that progressed faster weren’t necessarily the ones that practiced the most. It was the ones who rated their commitment levels as longer term. These students saw themselves as life-long musicians.
Even if a teenager doesn’t think higher education is the best option, he should still consider himself a lifelong learner to help achieve current academic goals.
Setting and accomplishing goals is extremely beneficial for teenagers. Setting your own goals is a way of taking command of your life and learning about yourself in the process. If not every goal is completed, or not completed within the original timeframe, that’s ok.
Goals can be adjusted. Sometimes the act of working towards a goal is more important than accomplishing the goal itself.
About the Site Author and Blog
In 2018, I was winding down a stint in investor relations and found myself newly equipped with a CPA, added insight on how investors behave in markets, and a load of free time. My job routinely required extended work hours, complex assignments, and tight deadlines. Seeking to maintain my momentum, I wanted to chase something ambitious.
I chose to start this financial independence blog as my next step, recognizing both the challenge and opportunity. I launched the site with encouragement from my wife as a means to lay out our financial independence journey and connect with and help others who share the same goal.
I have not been compensated by any of the companies listed in this post at the time of this writing. Any recommendations made by me are my own. Should you choose to act on them, please see the disclaimer on my About Young and the Invested page.