Anytime is a good time to set new, positive goals, but it can help to have a milestone or significant occasion to connect those goals to. This year, you can help your teen to make goals to better their mental and emotional health, here’s how.
That’s why so many people make New Year’s resolutions. Your teenager is at a good age to start setting positive goals for themselves to achieve in the new year if they haven’t already started. And while your teen probably has their own ideas about what they want to achieve, sometimes they need guidance coming up with goals that are positive, specific, and achievable.
Why Help Your Teen Set Positive Goals?
You want to help your teen learn how to set goals that will not only improve their lives in some way but also goals that they can actually achieve so that they will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when they look back on what they’ve done this year.
Even many adults struggle with setting positive, realistic goals and accomplishing them, so if your teen can learn to do this now, it will help set them on a better path for the future. These three tips will help you to encourage your teen to set positive goals that can benefit their mental and emotional being.
1. Be Specific
One common reason why New Year’s resolutions often fail is that they aren’t specific enough. If the goal is too vague or general, then it’s hard to come up with specific steps that you can take to achieve that goal, and it’s easy to let things slide instead. A very general goal can feel too big to accomplish at all, and when a goal is very vague, it’s easy to do something small that sort of meets the criteria but doesn’t really accomplish what the person setting the goal meant to accomplish.
So, for example, if your teen’s goal is “get better grades” they may start to feel like that’s too much to handle. Get better grades in all of their classes? Even the ones they’re really struggling with? What’s better? Does that mean straight As? Maybe “get better grades” is too much to ask.
On the other hand, if your teen has been putting in next to no effort and pulling Cs, and after setting the goal of “getting better grades”, they raise their P.E. grade to a B, they’ve technically accomplished their goal – after all, their GPA is now slightly higher – and they may not make an effort to bring up their grades in other classes, even though the original spirit of the goal may have been to work harder all around. So maybe “get better grades” is a goal that isn’t asking enough.
If your teen tells you that their goal is to get better grades in the new year, you can help them narrow that goal down to something that they can take concrete steps toward achieving. Their goal might be to raise their overall average from a C to a B, for example, or to get all of their homework done in a class that they’re struggling in. You can also help them think of steps they could take to achieve that goal, like finding a tutor or asking teachers for extra credit. You can offer to help hold them accountable, for example, by checking their homework regularly.
2. Focus on the Right Things
Teens may have good intentions when setting goals for themselves, but sometimes they can get hung up on the wrong things. For example, teens, like adults, often set goals relating to weight and diet. But while achieving or maintaining a healthy weight can be a good thing, it’s important to remember that weight is only one aspect of health, and it can be decidedly unhealthy for your teen to focus too much on their weight, or to put excessive restrictions on their diet.
If your teen tells you that their goal is to lose weight, you may want to help them refocus on just being healthier overall.
- Their goal could be to eat more vegetables, for example, or to go for a walk or a run every day.
- Or it could be to build some healthy habits, like eating a balanced breakfast every morning, drinking several glasses of water each day, or learning to meditate.
The point is not just to help your teen come up with specific and achievable goals, but also to prevent them from fixating on something or restricting themselves in an unhealthy way.
3. Include the Whole Family
What’s the best way to make sure that you achieve a goal that you’ve set for yourself? If you think about it, you probably know the answer: tell everyone you know that you’ve set that goal. If people know that you’re working toward something, they’ll ask and talk to you about it. This will help keep you accountable.
Accountability is a good thing. But on the other hand, it can be draining to feel like everyone is watching you, checking in on you, and waiting to see whether or not you manage to do what you’re trying to do. It can also be lonely to feel like you’re trying to accomplish a goal all by yourself. But having other people working toward the same or similar goals with you gives you that accountability along with a sense of shared purpose.
You can give your teen that sense of both accountability and shared purpose by making goal-setting a family affair. Your teen may be looking to set positive goals that the whole family can get in on, like developing healthier habits. And even if a goal is more specific to your teen, like improving their school performance, you can set a similar goal – perhaps related to your work performance, or work to improve yourself along with your teen. That way, you can hold each other accountable, making your teen feel less like a kid whose parents are watching them and more like a partner in the family’s self-improvement journey.
Setting positive goals or resolutions and making plans for the future is important, and your teen can make real positive changes in their life if they set the right kinds of goals and have the support they need to achieve them.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.