If kids haven’t learned the art of goal setting in their elementary school years, they definitely need to learn it by middle school. Otherwise, they risk developing a hard-to-unlearn habit of going through life in reactive mode, doing what’s expected and neglecting their own initiative.
Whether new to the principle or not, by age ten most youngsters are ready to think about goals that will shape their futures through high school and beyond:
Kids this age are also ready to grasp in detail what the SMART in SMART goals stands for.
Explain how to phrase a goal not just as “I want to run faster” or even “I want to make straight A’s,” but as “I want to run a mile in five minutes” or “I want to memorize thirteen poems for English class and build a solar system model for my science project.” A well-defined goal is easily visualized, and a visualized goal is an as-good-as-achieved goal.
Most goals can be defined in terms of “how much,” “how long,” or “how many.” Helpful guiding questions include: “Can you make a list of everything that needs doing? When do you hope to finish the project? How many days will you have to work on it, minus any days off? How many pages/steps/practice hours per day will it take?”
Kids in the tween-to-teen age range often have an “omnipotent” mentality, which can be an asset, but can also mean they overestimate what they’re capable of doing and underestimate the work involved. Don’t be too quick to throw cold water on their dreams, and don’t be afraid to let them learn through trial and error; but don’t let a goal drive all other responsibilities from their minds. Encourage them to look realistically at their stated goals, at what else they’ll need to leave time for, and at what they’ll do in case of setbacks.
Encourage your kids to talk about their passions and life dreams. Suggest resources that can help them set six-month or one-year goals to start in the right direction: what courses and projects would provide a leg up on getting into college for that engineering degree?
Most goals need dates of completion to keep them from turning into “I’ll get around to it someday” dreams. Still, a target date shouldn’t be the point after which hope of achieving the goal is thrown out the window. Besides offering to hold your kids accountable for working toward their goals daily, help them reevaluate and modify if things get off schedule.
A couple of concluding hints for helping tweens and teens with goal-setting:
What have you done this week to help yourself move just a little closer to perfect?