Whether or not you’ve generally done the whole New Year’s Resolutions deal, crafting some goals for the next year with your teen can be an excellent way to connect. But the benefits aren’t limited to the individual goals involved or the relationship-building potential. Lighting the fire of passion and establishing the habits of discipline as your teen moves toward a long-term goal can mean major steps toward improved mental health, lower risk for deviant behavior, and even future success.
The Impact on Mental Health
One explanation for the increased incidence of Depression among children and teens in our world today is the societal changes leading to unmet basic needs — needs such as “companionship, healthy goals, responsibility, connection to others and meaning.”
Another often-cited culprit many believe contributes to Depression and Anxiety disorders in teens is the overly abundant choices available to them. They have many options and have to make decisions, almost constantly.
In addition to communicating with teens about how to wisely make major life decisions, you can help them reduce the number of everyday decisions about how to spend their time when you encourage them to set up annual priorities and goals and then make specific plans about how to set themselves up for successfully achieving those goals.
The Dangers of Purposelessness
A sense of purpose isn’t just about alleviating mental and emotional trauma: Teens who lack purpose are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors. December is a big month for drug- and alcohol-related accidents, leading to its being named National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month. In addition to extra time over break from school, teens are at increased risk for dangerous behavior around the holidays because they often see alcohol as a means of celebration.
Instead of engaging in pointless and even unhealthy forms of celebration, teens living with a purpose and specific goals in mind will be less likely to take unnecessary risks.
The Steps Toward Future Success
Small successes breed future successes. The more a teen can achieve self-discipline and achieve bite-sized goals, the more likely he or she will gain the skills and confidence necessary for long-term goals. Instead of gimmicks and incentives, teens can realize the sense of accomplishment that comes from working hard, over time, to achieve a personal goal.
The fewer external controls involved, the better, but a little encouragement can go a long way. At the outset, it can be helpful to talk about successful or “SMART” goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based) and how to set yourself up for success.