Setting Goals, Solving Problems, and Seeking Social Support: Developing Adolescents' Abilities through a Life Skills Program

Article excerpt

It is during adolescence that precursors to problem behavior begin to be displayed (Danish, 1996; Hamburg, 1997). However, as patterns may not yet be firmly established, it is important to encourage adolescents to develop a positive future orientation to decrease the risk of health-compromising behaviors (Perry & Jessor, 1985). Different interventions have been developed to help adolescents achieve a positive future. One type has focused on teaching life skills which have been defined as those necessary to succeed in different environments such as school, home, neighborhood, and community (Danish, 1996). According to Danish (1996), for adolescents to acquire these skills, they must be concrete, easily taught, easily learned, and transferable. Research has shown that programs that are interactive have stronger effects than those that are information based (Tobler & Stratton, 1997).

One such life skills intervention is the Going for the Goal (GOAL) program (Danieh, 1996). GOAL is designed to give adolescents a sense of personal control and help them develop a positive outlook on their future. The intervention is generally taught in schools and involves high school students teaching the life skills to younger adolescents in a ratio of approximately two high school students to 10 to 12 younger students (Danish, 1996). The GOAL program contains 10 one-hour sessions and usually is taught once a week for 10 weeks.

The GOAL program has been implemented in numerous places. Whereas, many of the evaluations have addressed issues such as school attendance, behavior change, and self-esteem (Danish, 1996; Danish & Nellen, 1997; Hodge, Dugdale & Sherburn, 1997), more research is needed to determine whether the adolescents are learning the skills taught in the program such as goal setting, problem solving, and seeking social support.

Goal setting is a valuable skill that facilitates healthful adolescent development. Research on goal setting in adolescence has found that having goals is positively related to academic performance and more specifically to homework performance and accuracy (Gaa, 1979; Miller & Kelley, 1994; Trammel & Schloss, 1994). Problem solving is also related to a number of psychological and academic benefits in adolescence. Problem solving has been found to be negatively related to anxiety and irrational beliefs (Nigro, 1996; Heppner, Reeder, & Larson, 1983) and positively related to self-concept, internal locus of control, study habits, and academic performance (Heppner et al., 1983; Hay, Byrne, & Butler, 2000; Tellado, 1984; Elliot, Godshall, Shrout, & Witty, 1990). Social support has been found to act as a stress buffer in that it protects people in crisis from both physical and psychological problems (Cobb, 1976). Researchers have found that overall satisfaction with social support was negatively related to frequency of daily hassles and depressive symptoms, and positively related to self-esteem in adolescence (Dumont & Provost, 1999).

These three skills--goal setting, problem solving, and the ability to seek and obtain social support--are important for adolescents to develop as they have been shown to facilitate physical, mental, and emotional well-being. In this study, the GOAL Program was implemented to teach the adolescents these skills and to determine whether GOAL was effective in teaching them.

METHOD

Participants

Twenty adolescents (17 females, 3 males) enrolled in grade nine participated in the study. They ranged in age from 14 to 16 years (M = 14.10, SD = .45) and were recruited from their English class at a large Canadian high school. The majority of the adolescents (60%) reported that they were currently living with both parents; 25% reported that they were living in a single-parent family (mother only); 10% reported living in two-parent families with one parent being a stepparent; and 5% reported living with friends/on their own. …