- By: Julie Baron, LCSW-C
Helping Teens Reach Goals
Precontemplation. Contemplation. Determination/Decision. Action. Relapse. Maintenance. Did you know there are stages of change? We all go through them when we decide we want to reach a goal that makes our life or ourselves somehow different. Some of us linger longer than others in particular stages. Some of us breeze through them. Depends on how motivated and incentivized we are to make said change. Teenagers are no different than adults when it comes to changing a behavior. It is not easy. And most of the time, it is not quick.
What is different about teenagers making a change is that often there are adults in the picture looking to drive that change. Learning, performing in a sport, mastering an extracurricular skill, or self-care or improvement are all examples of ways adolescents change. Just by virtue of time passing and growth happening, teens are changing. But for teens, in many cases, adults in the form of parents, teachers, instructors, coaches or therapists are external forces driving a teen to reach a goal (make a change). These roles are critical to supporting adolescents in the direction of independence and self-sufficiency. Adults often know what THEY want for teens. So how do we help teens grow while respecting that the actual change is theirs to own and theirs to make?
Know what stage they are in. Know what stage you are in.
First know it is RARE that a teen and a supporting adult are in the same stage of readiness for change. When a parent wants their teen to take more ownership and be independent with their schoolwork they are in the action stage (they have strategies and behavior plans at the ready) while their teen may be lingering in precontemplation stage (they haven’t even thought about this being a goal for them). Consider a different scenario. Your teen wants to travel with friends overnight to a music festival 3 hours away. They are in action stage (they have plans in place on how to make this happen) though the parent is in contemplation stage (knew their teen has been talking about this so parent is thinking about it AND not at all ready to allow the teen to execute the plan). Here is where seed planting (for teen and adult), patience, and respectful negotiation is key. Adults cannot expect to unilaterally define goals for adolescents.
Allow teens to develop (or not) their goals and own their own outcomes (for better or worse).
Adults must accept what teens' goals are and are not. There is no way to force a goal upon a teen AND expect them to take authentic ownership to engage in the work needed to reach that goal. At best what you get is uncommitted agreement for said goal and a likelihood they will either resist, sabotage, or ignore what is needed to reach that goal. So what can parents and supportive adults do to guide teens in the direction of positive progress and growth? Three things. Adults play an important role in suggesting and offer feedback on how a particular goal may be in that teens’ interest. Manage the environment and contingencies for behavior choices. A parent cannot force their teen to do homework, though they can manage access to internet and video games. OR the teen responsibly does their
homework and is then granted freedom to manage their time and video games as they want. A coach cannot force a player to practice skills, though they decide whether they are ready for play time in the games or not. The third is…
Positive relationships grease the wheels of change.
Remember when picking battles with teens that your relationship is the foundation of any influence and engagement. Without that, nothing you say or do will have the value intended. Remember to value that relationship by showing respect, authenticity, kindness, predictability and acceptance in your interactions with them. If they are not ready to make a healthy change, they will know you are there to support them when they are.