4 Ways to Instill Thankfulness in your Teens

Smiling Family Posing in FieldOur culture does not reward gratefulness, but instead encourages the idea of “must-haves” to be happy. Society pushes our kids to WANT, but true happiness often has its roots in a person’s sense of gratitude for what they already have. Studies consistently show that people who are grateful or thankful are happier, more satisfied, and healthier overall in their lives than people who are not.

Here are 4 ways that adults can encourage teens to develop an attitude of gratitude:

  1. Record gratitude. Taking the time to reflect on things for which we are thankful automatically puts us in a positive frame of mind. Studies show that actually recording those items increases our gratitude. Here are three easy ways for your teen to “record” their thankfulness:
    • Each night, either at dinner or bedtime, have each family member, including your teen, mention one thing for which he/she is thankful.
    • Thank you notes are also great gratitude builders; treat them not as chores but as opportunities to make other people feel good. Gratitude letters – not connected to any particular gift, but written to someone to whom your child feels thanks (teacher, coach, the school’s janitorial staff) – can truly solidify a teen’s feelings of thankfulness.
    • Many studies have shown that a gratitude journal leads to positive change, a greater sense of happiness and a positive attitude. Suggest to your teen that, every day, they should think of, or write down, at least one thing that they appreciated or that they are grateful for.
  2. Encourage volunteerism. Helping others can be very fulfilling, and if you can show your teen through example how enriching it is, they’ll start to make an association between helping someone else and their own joy. Service projects can help youth develop empathy for others and realize how fortunate they are in comparison. There are lots of service projects available to teens, including: organizing a blood drive; hosting a themed event for young kids at the local library; assisting Habitat for Humanity; holding a collection (such as canned goods for the food bank); caring for animals at the shelter; cleaning park trails; or sending care packages to troops or sick children. Research shows several benefits for teens who engage in community services:
    • Perform better in school.
    • Have higher self-esteem and more resiliency.
    • Are 50 percent less likely to smoke, drink or do drugs.
    • Gain new skills necessary in the job market, such as leadership, decision-making and communication skills.
    • Look more attractive on college and scholarship applications.
  3. Role model. Be the person who is grateful. Show gratitude when your teen is helpful or when the neighbor brings in your mail or when someone holds the door for you. Recognize the kind and thoughtful behaviors of others (including your teen) and appreciate them for it. If your teen catches you saying “thank you,” writing a note of gratitude, or volunteering, they will be more likely to recognize that gratitude is a practiced part of life.
  4. Put your teen in charge. Teens love to be independent and rarely like to be told what to do. Tap into those innate desires and ask your teen to develop some ideas to increase gratitude in the family. Offer them some ideas (such as those above), but allow them to decide what to do and how to organize it. Perhaps they will conduct a brainstorming session with all the family members around the dinner table.


Final Thoughts…

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey

Thanksgiving and the holiday season is a great opportunity to try these exercises to increase gratitude in your family. Young people want to be involved in making the world a better place, and developing gratitude significantly improves their chance of becoming a responsible and productive adult. Take the time to try to develop a sense of thankfulness in your child. It will be a gift that keeps on giving.

From everyone here at Middle Earth, we wish you and your loved ones a very happy Thanksgiving!

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