6 Ways to Raise an Optimistic Teen in a Pessimistic World

Our world can be a disappointing and discouraging place at times. The news reports of school shootings, bullying, poverty, sexual harassment, drugs, and many other tragedies can make even the most hopeful person feel down. In addition, there are many cynical people in our world who are frequently complaining or pointing out the negative. In this type of environment, it can be hard to feel optimistic.

Why Should We Pursue Optimism?

Critics often say that being optimistic isn’t realistic or that optimists ignore their problems.  In truth, optimists see the same problems that everyone else sees, but they choose to view them from a positive light. They look for the positives in every situation, view life’s hardships as challenges to overcome, and believe in their own strength to get through difficulties. They understand that setbacks are temporary. When they face a hardship, they will respond by evaluating the situation and developing an action plan instead of sinking into feelings of self-pity, blame, or fear. Optimists tend to develop a positive “self-talk.” They remind themselves that they have the skills to overcome their challenges and realize they will gain wisdom as they handle life’s bumps in the road. Optimistic people are resilient.

Benefits of Optimism

Research shows that, compared to pessimistic people, optimists are:

  • healthier and live longer
  • more likely to rate themselves “happy”
  • less likely to suffer from depression
  • less anxious and/or worried
  • more successful in school, at work, and in athletics
  • more satisfied with their jobs and marriages


6 Ways to Raise an Optimistic Teen

With so many great benefits, it makes sense to try to raise our youth to be optimistic! Here are 6 ways to do it:

1. Look at the Bright Side

Teach your teen the principle that there is good and bad in every situation – what you focus on is how you will feel about it. If all your attention is on the negative, you will feel pessimistic about your situation. Instead, help your teen look for the silver linings in seemingly negative situations, whether it’s their own, or stories you hear in the media. If your teen actively seeks the good in everyday life, they will begin to feel more and more optimistic. This lesson definitely requires some role modeling from the adults in your teen’s life. Avoid complaining or venting about the negative in the presence of your teen.

2. Express Gratitude

Studies consistently show that people who are grateful are happier, more optimistic, and healthier overall in their lives than people who are not. Take the time to share what you’re grateful for with your family. 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. Leverage your teen’s love of technology by encouraging him or her to tweet or post what they appreciate about their life. This small act can be a positive influence on hundreds of people, and help everyone maintain a more positive attitude in general.

3. Put Things in Perspective

When we face a difficulty, our minds tend to blow it out of proportion. Help your teen to consider possible scenarios or consequences from their challenge and how they would handle them. Many times, when we think through the reality of our struggle, we realize it’s not life-altering or that we can fix the problem – then we can feel hope again. If your teen is felling pessimistic because of a serious tragedy that has occurred in the world, limit the media your teen is exposed to. Constantly reliving the tragedy through frequent media is bound to make anyone feel pessimistic. Help your kids put things in perspective by explaining that the loudest voices capture the most listeners. Then encourage them to:

4. Take Action

Many times, we are most pessimistic when we feel helpless, so teach your teen to take action! Ask your teen what steps they can take in any difficult situation to improve it. If your teen is upset by a natural disaster, they could raise funds for the victims. If your teen sees someone getting bulled, whether in person or online, they can report the bully or let the victim know they care. If your teen perceives a social injustice, they can start a petition or protest. If your teen really wants an “A” in math, they can spend more time on the material (e.g. study harder, engage a tutor, get help afterschool from the teacher). When your teen takes action in areas under their control, they feel like they can make a difference and that in turn creates optimism.

5. Tune Out the World Sometimes

Our digital age bombards us with constant news and depressing images. Experts say that the buildup of bad news can be overwhelming to adults, let alone children. So take a break! Occasionally shut all the technology down and have a family night, such as a board game marathon or a long dinner with conversation (and no devices). By proactively managing your media and choosing family engagement, you show your teens what is really important.

6. Give Credit for Success

Teens develop self-esteem and optimism by overcoming challenges and experiencing success. So, first, as parents, we must give our teens the opportunity to be successful (which means that we cannot rescue our kids every time they face a difficulty), and then we must help them see how they contributed to their own success (identify the talents, skills and hard work they used to accomplish the success). For example, you might tell a teen that earns an “A” on a test that you are proud of their work ethic and intelligence. Then, go a step further and explain that these are both strengths that your teen can use when dealing with future difficulties. When your teen doubts his/her ability to handle a challenge in the future, remind them of their past successes.

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