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Guiding Your Kids to Better Life Goals

I’ve been in the business of talking with teenagers for over two decades. Often, the conversations we have are centered on their future goals. It’s no exaggeration to say I’ve talked with thousands of teenagers about what they want to do when they get older. 

Almost every time, I’m unimpressed. 

That’s not a negative criticism; that’s what I would call pattern recognition. The fact is, most teenagers have NO CLUE what they want, nor do they understand HOW to figure out what they want. 

What I hear from them falls into a few buckets:

  • They want to make money
  • They want to do something that sounds impressive, which usually gets adults off their back

  • They are only focused on college acceptance

  • They want to do what their parents want them to do

  • They want to do what their parents don’t want them to do

  • They don’t care; have no response

Very, very rarely do I talk with a teenager who has real clarity about their future goals—clarity that will have some shelf-life. 

Every now and then, I meet a teenager who seems to have real clarity. Here are the most impressive, remarkable responses I’ve heard from teens over the years about their future goals:

  • “I want to become a ______, because…” (this is when they share about a hardship they’ve been through and how it’s shaped their perspective about their place in the world). 
  • “I actually want to be a father—that’s what I want to do.”
  • “I have no clue, and no one I talk to is helpful!”

Here’s the thing: we need to be asking them these questions continuously. 

If they get annoyed, wait a few days and then ask them again. They’re annoyed because they feel anxious, not because they’ve figured it out. Your questions will remain in them, and research has shown that keeping questions present can trigger their unconscious answers. 

If they happen to have a clear answer, especially a neat and tidy one, ask them again in a few days. But next time, ask them to share the motivation they have for their goals. You might even think about leveraging the famous Toyota Motors management exercise, the Five Whys. The idea is to help them uncover their true motivations, which often reveal their core values and principles. 

They need our help to find and define their goals. Good goals that are worth pursuing. Goals that will lead them to happiness, purpose, and meaning. 

It’s okay if they get annoyed.

All for the sake of kids,

Scott Schimmel
President & Chief Guide | The YouSchool
949.291.9061 | theyouschool.com

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