Encouraging Gratitude in Teens
As Thanksgiving approaches, many parents might be wondering how to make the holiday meaningful to their teens or how to raise their teens to be more grateful… or at least less entitled. Raising a teen who is grateful or who appreciates the good things in their life is a worthy goal. Years of research convincingly shows that, when compared with their less grateful peers, grateful youth are happier and more satisfied with their lives, friends, family, neighborhood, and selves. They also report more hope, engagement with their hobbies, higher GPAs, and less envy, depression, and materialism. If that is the case, gratitude is an important skill that will help our children to become healthier and happier!
So how do we raise grateful teenagers? Rarely does telling someone that they should be more grateful work. This type of directive usually creates one of three responses: 1) rebellion – ‘don’t tell me what to do’; 2) guilt – ‘I really should be more grateful so I must be a terrible person’; or 3) obligation – ‘I will try to be more grateful in order to please my parents’. None of these responses creates true gratitude, and only a genuine sense of gratitude creates the wellness benefits described above.
To encourage genuine gratitude in our children, we need to take a more indirect approach. Here are a few ways that we can inspire, rather than demand, our teens to have a thankful heart:
Role model. Demonstrate a grateful attitude in your own life. Teens and tweens absolutely notice when the adults around them have an attitude of thankfulness and when they don’t. Every adult in an adolescent’s life is teaching them how to behave through their actions. If your teen watches 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. Here are some ways to role model gratitude:
- Express appreciation when someone opens a door for you, smiles kindly, wishes you well, or offers a compliment. Point out that the person’s kind and thoughtful behavior brightened your day and made you feel more connected to other people in your community in a positive way.
- Be mindful of how you talk about your circumstances. Our brains are amazing filters and will focus on whatever we think about most, so become an expert at looking for the positives.
- Express thanks for a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food on your table. Admire the people around you. Talk about the wonders of life.
- When facing difficult circumstances, identify something positive in the challenge or discuss how past challenges have helped make you a better person so you know this will improve you, too.
- Whenever you find yourself in conflict with someone, reflect to your teen about one or two things that you genuinely like about the person, or positive experiences you have shared with them in the past, and then acknowledge that every person has positives and negatives.
- Especially, take the time to express gratitude for your teen – for the way they make you laugh, or the way they change your perspective, or whenever they are helpful. When you can honestly appreciate the teen in your life, they will be more likely to extend gratitude back.
Engage with the natural world. Spend time outdoors. Being outside has a natural way of creating awe. Enjoy the beauty of nature and admire the unique aspects of our planet. Grow a garden so that your children are learning where food comes from and the effort that goes into the meals they eat. Build something together instead of buying it so that teens can appreciate the work involved.
Celebrate holidays. Use holidays to create family traditions that honor sacrifices and acknowledge people’s contributions. For example, you might have a special dinner on Veteran’s Day and discuss the important sacrifices our military makes or eat only round foods on Pi Day and discuss famous mathematician’s impact on our world. Thanksgiving is a natural holiday to inspire gratitude. Start a tradition where all of your Thanksgiving dinner guests write down one thing they are grateful for to share at the end of the meal, or ask everybody in the extended family to share one thing they love or respect about each family member.
Use social media. Teens love their social media, so what better way to spread gratitude than with their favorite communication medium? Share #thankful or #grateful posts on your own media and discuss how this small act can be a positive influence on hundreds of people and help everyone maintain a more positive attitude in general.
Volunteer. 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. Volunteering as a family at a local charity can provide quality bonding time and help teens recognize their own blessings more readily.
Research has proven what we already inherently know… gratitude makes us feel happier, more hopeful about the future, and influences our success. Taking the time to role model a thankful attitude to your children will become a gift that keeps on giving!
From everyone here at Middle Earth, we wish you and your loved ones a very happy Thanksgiving!