Tips for Parents: How To Encourage Your High Schooler to Set Goals

Goal setting is a critical skill that your student needs to learn while they are in high school. But what does that look like in practice? In this blog, I’ll share how you can protect your parent-child relationship when helping them set goals, the 5 types of goals they should be setting, and the SMART Goal Framework. I’ll also explain how to encourage your high schooler to set goals that will light their flame. 

My Biggest Tip for Parents: Try Softer 

Before we get into the meat of how to practically set goals, I want to focus on one principle that took me way too long to learn. I want to help you, as parents, skip all the years it took me to learn this… 

There are two types of students: the try-hards and the geniuses. 

The try-hards are typically more successful than the geniuses because they are willing to do everything needed to succeed. Yes, they are the ones who go back and check their work. And when they do, they usually find and correct the errors.

Then we all know the geniuses – who already knew the answers before the test so they didn’t have to study at all. 

Up until 10 years ago, I was the epitome of a big ole try hard. 

Then I shifted my mindset from “try harder” to “try softer.” 

As parents of teenagers, we need to try softer.

Here’s why… Adolescents should be the ones trying harder – not their parents. When parents shift the burden of trying and achieving to their student’s shoulders, they can relax and enjoy the relationship a lot more. 

If you (the parent) are a try-hard, don’t allow the achievement pressure or social pressure to get in the way of your relationship with your teenager. 

This “try softer” mentality is what I personally use to coach myself when relationships are involved. When we’re in a try-hard state, we tend to alienate ourselves from others. 

Alienation wrecks relationships. 

Think of the super successful person who makes it to the “top” but has no one to share the joy of success with because they were so busy hustling that they didn’t take care of their relationships.

Try Softer to Save Relationships

A former University of Houston Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship graduate owns a restaurant and catering company. When the company was 7 years old, it was bursting at the seams, franchise agreements everywhere.

Then his wife got cancer. 

In an instant, his priorities shifted.

He scaled back his business so he could care for his wife and children. He knew his priorities and that his business could wait; his wife and family, however, could not wait!

Trying softer means taking care of people over your goals. It’s not worth ruining relationships to achieve goals.

Try Softer to Prioritize Relationships

In another example that’s more teenager-friendly… one of our students wanted to run for Student Body President. Her best friend also wanted to run. The choice here wasn’t just to not run to save the relationship. Being a Student Body President was who our student was. If her best friend couldn’t support her – even in opposition – then that’s not a good friend. And it’s going to be a defining moment in that relationship.  

It’s important to prioritize the relationships that are reciprocal and worth valuing. The teenage years are where you start to find the people that really care about and support you.

How To Encourage Your High Schooler to Set Goals: Break Goal Setting Into These 5 Areas

Many think that goal setting is all about getting from point A to point B.

But that’s not the full picture of personhood.

As we talked about in episode 8, there will be setbacks as you reach your goals.

Learn how to encourage your high schooler to set goals by breaking “goal setting” down into these 5 areas:

  1. Personal goals
  2. Social Goals
  3. Academic or career goals
  4. Health and fitness goals
  5. Spiritual goals

Personal Goals

Personal goals are goals that impact you and only you. It could be skydiving, reading 12 books in a year, or visiting all 7 continents. 

Personal goals can be items on your bucket list, or they can be deeply relational and personal. 

One of my seniors set his goal to strengthen his relationships with his younger, twin brothers during his final year living at home. He realized the strife and competition that had nearly ruined the three of them and decided to try softer. He became a role model of a leader who could let the younger brothers win – occasionally. Before he graduated from high school, I asked him how that goal was progressing. He smiled and told me he had changed, but his brothers were the same. Relationship goals are tough because they involve people outside your sphere of control. You can only do so much! And that’s okay. 

Social Goals

Then, there’s social goals. One of my students wanted to expand her social circle and meet every senior in her senior class.

Another student was a cheerleader and knew well the social pressures that came with her role. She felt “obligated” to eat lunch with the other cheerleaders. When setting goals with her, she told me that she didn’t want to eat lunch with the cheerleaders. She wasn’t comfortable with their conversations and their weekends of partying. She didn’t want to just go along with it. Together, we worked to set a goal to meet other students in her classes and to eat lunch with them occasionally. She didn’t snub her cheer friends, and she broadened her social circle with her goal. 

Social goals are a great way for teens to take care of themselves. These can apply to:

  • Family members
  • Dating relationships
  • Friendships
  • Conversations

Academic Or Career Goals

Academic or career goals are very specific goals. They usually have a number associated with them. 

  • ACT score of 30 
  • SAT score of 1400
  • Get accepted into 5 colleges
  • Get promoted to manager in 6 months
  • All A’s 

Parents, keep in mind that when it comes to grades, semester grades are what really matters. Have your student monitor their grades all the way through. It’s up to your student to check their grades; it’s their responsibility – not yours as their parent. 

Health and Fitness Goals

There are also health and fitness goals. Right now, a health issue has shut down the whole world. 

Some of my male students who start with us before entering high school decide that they want to get fit so they can feel better about themselves and their social life when they get into high school. They made those decisions intelligently and intentionally. Some of them started working with a doctor or they just started exercising. 

Like the previous types of goals, you need to quantify it. If you don’t have benchmarks and a timeline, it’s a vague, unachievable goal.

Spiritual Goals

Last but not least… Spiritual goals! Here are a few examples of spiritual goals:

  • Journal every morning. When you continually reflect, you connect spiritually with yourself. 
  • Pray or read scripture in a weekly small group. Connecting to your higher power is something that can center you as a person.
  • Meditate daily. With all this downtime, turn off technology and quiet your mind to help clear out the mental clutter and refocus. 

Experts use a 20 / 20 / 20 rule. 20 minutes to pray. 20 minutes to look at your schedule. And 20 minutes to breathe, meditate, and focus. 

When you adopt a discipline like this, it will change your life because it centers your day around your spirit. 

SMART Goal Framework

The “SMART” in the SMART Goal Framework stands for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-based.

Is it vague or specific? 

Can you measure the goal?

Does it have an action? Remember, there are a lot of things that you cannot control in reaching your goals. Control your controllables. 

Is it realistic?

Finally, what’s the time limit?

Time is last because things shift. The goals I set for 2020 – I achieved in the first 3 months. It’s not always like this, and sometimes it may take longer. 

There are few time estimates that are fixed. When a woman gets pregnant, she can usually expect to have a baby in her arms 9 months later. Most time limits, however, aren’t so rigid. We tend to experience detours in life. 

Make your goals certain, but know that there’s a lot of things we don’t have control over. 

Very Important: Write Down Your Goals

When your students set goals, encourage them to write them down. A Harvard study found we are 20x more likely to achieve our goals if we keep them in our minds. But, when we write them down, we are 500x more likely to achieve them. 

It’s all about the written word.

During one of my students’ sophomore year, her core goal was to be the drum major of the marching band. She was a flautist, and if you knew her, you could tell it wasn’t going to happen. First, she was shy, and second, the director hated her. But this goal setting practice supersedes all the things. It’s kind of supernatural. So I told her to write it down and claimed that it was going to happen. 

A few years later at some graduation party, I ran into that student and found out that she had made a drum major! The director that hated her was let go. 

Remind your teens not to worry about other people when setting goals! They are just a distraction.

The universe or your higher power can conspire works in mysterious ways. 

What Are Your Goals? 

There are less than 5 months left in 2020. What goals have you and your student set for the remainder of 2020? Let us know in the comments section below!

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