Asian mother smiling and helping teen daughter set intentions on her tablet.

Helping Your Teen Set Intentions for the New Year

January is the month of endless possibilities. A month where many suddenly decide to reconsider what they truly want and how to get it. For some, especially teens, new year’s resolutions are fleeting bursts of energy to change oneself that are quickly left behind without an actionable plan. So why not ditch the “resolutions” that often go unresolved?

Much stronger than a resolution, new year goal setting for teens can be instrumental in building confidence and lasting productivity through the year. But sometimes, this can be a challenge filled with uncertainty and worry for making it all happen. That’s why learning how to set intentions, even with general ideas or hopes for the future, can be a powerful alternative. So what is intention setting and how does it work? Read on for tips on how to help teens set intentions. 

Goals vs. Intentions

For teens, new year goal setting can often look like forming ideas for how to become a new version of themselves. New year, new me, right? Unfortunately, this mindset can sometimes be unhealthy for young people, supporting changing oneself instead of their changing intentions: how they show up in the world and who they want to be as a person. 

While a goal is something that you create outside of yourself, set in the future, an intention is inward. The two work hand in hand: your teen can look at intentions as the theme and goals as the action under that theme. For example, if your teen sets the intention to build friendships, they can create a goal, such as making plans with their friends once a week, to support that intention.

Getting Started

So how to get started? Break the ice by asking your teen if they have any new year’s resolutions in mind. When they respond, suggest intention setting as a healthier and more actionable alternative. Walk them through the steps by asking them about their general idea of how they would like the year to go. Ask them if they have hopes for the future and how important those wishes are to them. 

As you discuss the possibilities, your teen can walk you through what is most important to them for the year and how they plan to make it happen. It might also be helpful to share your intentions for yourself as well. Bounce ideas off of each other as a unique bonding activity!

Asking Questions

As you help your teen set intentions, they might get discouraged along the way. This process is often deeper and more thorough than typical new year goal setting. Thinking about the future can bring on tricky emotions. To help them face their concerns and dig deep into their wishes for the year to come, try asking a few helpful questions such as: 

  • Is this something that I truly, deep down, want to do? 
  • How will this actually improve my quality of life?
  • How will this impact, and hopefully benefit, others in my life? 
  • Do I have enough time and the right resources to make it happen? 

Mindfulness about what their wishes mean and what it would take to achieve them is a truly powerful practice. Contemplating these points can open their mind to how deeply they want something and help spark a realization of the impact their intentions have on themselves and others. Even more, this thought process can open the door for them to ask for help and bring them the confidence to go for it! 

How to Set Intentions

Once you have talked it through and supported your teen’s ideas for their future, it is time to help them set their intentions “in stone.” The first step is writing it down. This is truly a must to make sure that the intention is regarded as fixed. Choose a medium that works best for your teen to help them keep the intentions in mind all year long. Maybe they want to use notes on their phone or pictures to capture their ideas and keep them by their side while on the go. Or maybe a trusted journal is the perfect place to keep their intentions to make it feel personal and truly special. 

Once pen has touched paper (or fingers touch keyboard), the next step is creating action steps. Start out by figuring out what the first step is and if your teen needs anything to help them get there. Have them consider if there are any obstacles and what they might need to overcome them. Next, set a time frame. Depending on the magnitude of the intention, it could be a month, a year, or even longer. If needed, work on creating some smaller action steps to make the approach seem less daunting and more exciting!

Keeping Up with Intentions

Setting your intentions for the new year can start out strong but as often happens, willpower fades and interests change. Life is busy and filled with challenges. Sometimes teens can simply run out of gas! So what can you do to help set your teen up for success? To make sure that these intentions stick through the year, unlike the all-too-often abandoned new year’s resolutions, use these techniques to keep the energy alive… 

  • Visualization. Encourage your teen to practice visualizing what they would like to see happen and using visual tools to keep their intentions in mind. They can keep a piece of paper, their journal, or their phone with their intention on hand so they can refer to it whenever they could use a friendly reminder. 
  • Vision Board. To amp up their energy about their intentions, invite your teen to make a vision board for their room or create a collage for their phone. They can use images and words to solidify a mental picture and continuously imagine succeeding. 
  • Rewards. To keep them motivated, have your teen create a rewards system. Remind them to think positively and treat themselves with additional kind thoughts when they start completing their action steps. Remember however, the intentions themselves are the greatest reward!

At Tilly’s Life Center, our mission is to support teens in their endeavors to live their healthiest, most positive lives. Our workshops provide a new take on goal setting for teens, allowing them to reimagine their hopes, invigorate their lives with powerful intentions, and craft meaningful methods for achieving them. To learn more about our teen mental health resources, visit us at