Encouraging a Spirit of Thankfulness in Teens
The holidays are upon us again – Thanksgiving is right around the corner with many other holidays following quickly on its heels. It’s a busy time, but one where we often consider what we are thankful for. Teenagers aren’t always the most grateful form of our species, but there are ways to encourage a spirit of thankfulness. Instilling this value in youth will serve them well throughout life because studies consistently show that people who are grateful or thankful are happier overall in their lives than people who are not and are less likely to be materialistic.
How Adults Can Encourage Gratitude in Youth
Model sincere appreciation. Teens and tweens absolutely notice when the adults around them have an attitude of gratitude and when they don’t. Every adult in an adolescent’s life is teaching them how to behave through their actions. So, comment on the small stuff to the teens in your life. Every day someone opens a door for us, smiles kindly, makes eye contact, wishes us well, allows us to merge into heavy traffic or pays us a well deserved compliment. Express appreciation for these things and point out that they make our days better and connect us to other people in our community in a positive way.
Teach proper gift etiquette. This time of year is often filled with gift giving, and one very real way you can have an impact on a youth’s gratitude is to help them respond to gifts with good manners. Be honest that every gift a teen receives may not be his/her favorite. However, it’s still important to be grateful that someone was generous enough to spend their resources on him/her. It’s sincere to say, “Thanks for giving me this gift,” or “Thanks for thinking of me,” even if you don’t like what you received. Additionally, every gift should be followed with a thank-you note. Some parents make a rule that a child can’t start using a gift until he/she has written and mailed a thank-you. Point out that even though technology is widespread, a written thank-you note is still one of the best ways to show appreciation. Yes, your teenager may have said “thank you” or even sent an e-mail (or a text message), but many people still like to receive a mailed thank-you.
Turn lemons into lemonade. A thankful spirit isn’t just about being grateful for the good things in our lives. We can be thankful even for the difficulties that teach us about ourselves and life. Explain to teenagers that challenges help to shape us and make us better people. Sometimes adversity creates opportunities otherwise not available – for example, someone might be too afraid to start a new career until they get laid off. Help teens to view the good in seemingly bad situations, but be careful not to make light of their tough times.
Don’t take things for granted. As an adult, you should point out the many things teens can be grateful for and open their eyes to what they may be taking for granted.
- Talk about the wonders of life. If your teen enjoys a video game, a certain musical instrument, or playing a certain sport, discuss how great it is that someone invented it.
- If your teen is healthy, mention that millions of children in the United States are sick and can’t do the “normal kid things” that your teen can.
- Admire the people around you. Give thanks for the coach who volunteers their time on the sports team or the teacher who goes above and beyond to help the youth.
- Many people are lonely at the holidays, so remind your teen that he/she has immediate and extended family that supports him/her emotionally and shares life with him/her.
- With foreclosures, homelessness, unemployment and poverty all on the rise, express thanks for a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food on your table. Even if your residence and meals are not exactly what you might have hoped for, this is still a basic need that is being met and worthy of appreciation.
Finally, adults should bring these points home by expressing gratitude for teens! When you can honestly appreciate the youth in your life, they will be more likely to extend gratitude back.