How to Help Your Teen Set Goals for 2021

2020 has been a challenging year for many of us, not least for our teens. At a time in their lives where they are naturally craving more independence and freedom, Covid-19 restrictions have meant that they have been told what they can and can’t do pretty much every minute of every day. The best way to help them through this is to help them to focus on what they can influence rather than on what they can’t and what better time to do this than right before the new year?

If we listen to the media, the outlook for the beginning of 2021 looks bleak. But it doesn’t have to be. It really doesn’t. If we plan in advance for all eventualities, we can enable our teens to take control of their own lives and their own happiness in 2021, regardless of what is happening around them.

Why are our New Year’s Resolutions sometimes less than successful?

Planning for goals in advance is essential. We all know what it’s like to wake up on New Year’s Day and decide in that moment that we are going to cut out sugar, caffeine and carbs from that point onwards and then find two days later that we’ve fallen off the wagon. These kinds of ill-planned resolutions are often doomed to failure because:

  • We have not thought through how we might get in our own way and planned for ways around this
  • We do not believe that we are actually capable of achieving the goal
  • We do not really want to do what it takes to get there
  • It feels like a punishment rather than a joy

This is why preparation is essential when setting goals.

How can we help our teens set goals for 2021?

Encourage them to draw a big line under any negativity from 2020 and let it go

It may be, for example,  that remote learning was not fun for your teen during 2020, but that doesn’t mean that it necessarily has to continue to be the case. Encourage your teen to think specifically about why it wasn’t fun – what was the real problem?

My daughter did not enjoy remote learning because she felt that she could not relax in her bedroom after having worked in there all day and she found this made her feel angry and frustrated. In January, we will resolve this by swapping rooms during the day: she will work in my room and I will work in hers, so that we can both keep our own rooms as a place to relax in the evenings when our work is finished.

Often when your teen acknowledges what the real issue is, they will be able to find solutions that empower them to feel differently.

The goal must be something that they really want to achieve

Often, we set New Year’s Resolutions that we feel we “should” set ourselves. I know that this has often been the case for me in the past. I feel that I “should” drink less caffeine, yet ultimately I don’t want to. It brings me joy. Therefore, I have never managed to do this. The same is true for our teens. If they think that they “should” study more yet don’t actually want to, they are unlikely to stick to it.

Instead, get them to think about what they really want. A great start is to get them to write a list of all the things that bring them joy. If their goals are based on this list, they will be far more likely to achieve them. Ultimately, they must be their goals and not yours.

Make the picture bold, bright and colourful

Visualisation is so important. Your teen needs to know exactly what it is they want, rather than just a vague notion. What will it feel like when they have achieved it? What will they see, hear and smell? Writing this down can be helpful.

Another great way of creating this vision is to create a vision board where they cut out pictures and words from magazines which represent their vision and then create a design. This can also be done online and is something that the whole family could do together. Their unconscious mind will then process this vision as something real and tangible. Placing this vision board somewhere where it can be regularly seen enables their minds to focus on it regularly – the bigger, brighter, more detailed and more colourful it is, the more powerful it will be in their unconscious minds.

Encourage your teen to focus on what they want rather than on what they don’t want

Often when I ask the teens I work with what they want, they will say that they want to “not feel stressed” or “not feel anxious.” I always ask them what would happen if they went into McDonalds and said that they “don’t want a hamburger” and “don’t want chicken nuggets” – the person at the checkout would be no closer to knowing what they do want. Instead, get them to think about what they do want instead of being stressed or anxious.

We get what we focus on. If we focus on a positive goal, our minds will filter the experiences we have for information and opportunities for us to make this happen.

Encourage your teen to take action

This only needs to be one small action per day to work towards the bigger goal. I have a note on my notice board which simply says: “What small action can I take today to move towards my vision?” It is a permanent reminder to me of the bigger picture, which I find useful.

Remind your teen that there is no failure, only feedback

Many people give up their goal entirely because they didn’t achieve it on one particular day. This is not failure. Simply get your teen to reflect on why they didn’t manage it that day, tweak a few things and keep going. Nobody is perfect and that’s ok.

Encourage them to choose an accountability buddy

This is something that I have tried for the first time this year and it’s been amazing. I have a good friend who knows the goals I have set myself. Every Friday, I send a voice message with an update on my progress towards those goals (and sometimes my lack of progress). What I have found most useful about this is that in sharing my week, I am often reflecting on my “wins,” something that I perhaps wouldn’t be so consciously aware of otherwise.

Most importantly, encourage your teen to set goals which excite them and bring them joy. Wishing you all a very Happy New Year!

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