How to Help Your Teens Motivate Themselves with V.S.M.A.R.T Goals 

Do you ever find yourself struggling to help your teens set and achieve goals?

As a parent, you want to see your teen succeed. You may have been setting goals for them since they were little kids, but now that they’re reaching adolescence you want to start encouraging them to set their own goals and work towards them.

However, it can be difficult. Sometimes they’ll say they’ll do things, but then they don’t follow through or want to chase the next shiny object!

It can be tough to watch them struggle, but it’s important to remember that they are capable of reaching their potential with the right tools.

Why Goal Setting Is Tricky With Teenagers

Teenagers are going through a massive period of rapid change from being young adolescents right through to adulthood.

And with that comes a number of challenges, the most relevant of which is their brain development.

During puberty, teenagers’ brains are under construction. The last part to develop fully is the pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for higher-level thinking, planning, and rational decision-making.

What this means is that teenagers will have more trouble thinking ahead, following through with their decisions and appreciating consequence. They are more likely to act on impulse and emotion, rather than logic.

I don’t know about you, but as an adult, I still have trouble with this! How many goals have you set in the past that were not completed?

It’s no wonder then, that goal setting is tricky with teenagers. They may have the best of intentions, but they can find it hard to stick to a plan or see things through to the end.

Why The Traditional Way Of Goal Setting Doesn’t Work (Even With Adults)

The traditional way of setting goals is often referred to as the S.M.A.R.T method, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Recorded, and Time-based.

This is typically used in corporate settings, but it’s also something that is taught in schools.

However, research has shown that this method of goal setting is actually not that effective, especially when it comes to long-term goals.

In fact, a study by Gollwitzer and Sheeran found that people who used processes such as the S.M.A.R.T method were no more likely to achieve their goals than those who didn’t set any specific goals at all!

So if the traditional way of goal setting doesn’t work, what does?

Allow me to introduce you to the V.S.M.A.R.T process for goal setting.

The V.S.M.A.R.T Goal Setting Process

You might be tempted to think that the V in V.S.M.A.R.T stands for “Very,” i.e. “Very SMART Goal Setting.” This is not the case but the statement is true – it’s just a happy coincidence 🙂

The V actually stands for Values-linked.

Your teenager’s goals should be based on their values, rather than what they think they should be doing or what other people want them to do.

The S in V.S.M.A.R.T stands for Specific goals.

As I mentioned before, teenagers’ brains are still under construction and they are still trying to figure out who they are and what they want in life so narrowing down a specific rather than abstract goal is essential.

The M in V.S.M.A.R.T stands for Measurable goals.

As with any goals, it’s important that teenagers’ goals are something that can be measured, so they can track their progress and feel a sense of progression (i.e. they’re tapping into their Power need).

The A in V.S.M.A.R.T stands for Achievable.

Goals should be something that your teenager can realistically achieve. They need to be challenging, but not impossible. This often takes time to establish and can explain why specific goals are a trial-and-error process until teenagers feel its within their capabilities to achieve AND values-linked!

The R in V.S.M.A.R.T stands for Recorded feedback.

Feedback is essential for goal setting, as it helps us to know whether or not we are on track.

However, it’s also important that the feedback is objective and relevant to the goal itself, as this is what will help keep your teenager focused and motivated.

The T in V.S.M.A.R.T stands for Time-based.

Goals need to have a deadline, as this is what will help your teenager stay on track and see the progress they are making.

SMART vs V.SMART Goals – An Example

At this point, you might be thinking,

“V.S.M.A.R.T isn’t all that different from S.M.A.R.T goals. All you’ve done is added that extra V in front”

And you’d be right. But don’t underestimate the power of having goals that are values-linked — that one little component can make a WORLD of difference.

Allow me to demonstrate with an example.

Let’s say you’re an athlete looking to improve your time for a 100 metre sprint.

A SMART goal might look like:

  • Specific:I want to run 100 metres in less than 15 seconds
  • Measurable:I can measure time using a stopwatch, and distance using a 100m track
  • Achievable:I believe I can achieve this because my current time is pretty close.
  • Recorded Feedback:Yes – I’m recording my times.
  • Time-Based:I’d like to achieve this within 6 weeks.

A VSMART goal would be all of the above + a link to the athlete’s values.

For example, the athlete really wants to win a gold medal at the next Commonwealth games in Boxing but knows that although he doesn’t love sprints they are an essential component of his training in order to do that.

Values: So they might envision themselves singing their National Anthem on the Comm Games podium in front of a roaring crowd, as children watching TV back home are inspired by their actions.

Let’s say the athlete has a training program that consists of early morning sprint work on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Monday morning its freezing cold and raining.

Which of these two objectives (SMART vs VSMART) is more likely to encourage them to go for a run in this scenario?

There’s no debate – with an emotional attachment to their values of representing their country proudly, the athlete is more likely to look past the cold and rainy weather and follow through with their training.

Would You Like Your Teens To Learn This Process?

As you can see, V.S.M.A.R.T goals are a great way to help your teenager stay motivated, focused, and on track.

If you can help them to set goals that are based on their values, then you’ll be giving them the best possible chance of success in all areas of their lives – whether that’s school, work, relationships or sport.

It’s not always easy though, as teenagers are in that stage of life where they are trying to become independent from their parents. As such, they may not always be fully receptive to what you have to teach them, despite all your well-meaning intentions.

If that’s you, and you’d like some help, consider enrolling your teenager in one of our CounterPunch Group Workshop for Teens.

It’s a 20 to 24-week results-based program that utilizes a mix of performance psychology, sports science, and boxing. The program teaches teenagers practical tools (the V.S.M.A.R.T is just one of them) to both understand and effectively master the life skills needed to manage emotions such as stress, anxiety, anger and depression.

Mercedas Taaffe-Cooper


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