Teaching teens to be thankful in today’s world is one of the most difficult jobs parents face. Our teenagers are living in a different society than the one we experienced during our teen years.
The world today promotes instant gratification and vanity metrics. Plus, social media makes it seem like everyone is skinny, beautiful and rich.
Our teens are bombarded with images and messages every day that make them feel like they can never have enough to measure up. And it’s difficult to be grateful for what you have when you feel like it is not enough or other people have so much more.
One thing that hasn’t changed since we were young is that teenagers still tend to be self-absorbed, which also makes it more difficult for them to be thankful. They literally don’t see how good they have it or how other people are struggling.
So the big question here, is how do you combat this as a parent? Have our teens completely lost sight of being grateful for the little things? How do you open their eyes to the good in their lives and teach them to express gratefulness? How do you teach your teens to be thankful in a world that doesn’t seem to value gratitude?
The benefits of teaching your teens to be thankful
There are actually health benefits to teaching our teens to be thankful. According to a study by Martin Seligman, a simple, one-time act of gratitude can lead to a 10% increase in personal happiness. And if your teen is feeling low, practicing thankfulness can reduce the symptoms of depression by up to 35%.
Dr. Mary Gavin states that practicing thankfulness can lead to less stress, a more positive attitude, improved relationships and an ability to make better decisions. Most importantly, acts of gratitude start a thankfulness snowball. One positive act or thought leads to another and another.
Side note, if you are concerned about your teenager’s mental health, make sure to check out this article. It will help you tell if they could be depressed and give you resources to help them.
Teaching your teens to be thankful by example
Start by modeling the behavior you want your teenager to exhibit. Are YOU grateful for all of the small, wonderful things that happen each day? If not, it’s time time to change your attitude.
A simple way to show gratitude is to say thank you more often. Show your teen that you appreciate them and the other people in your home by thanking them for doing small household chores.
Or try pointing out something that you are thankful for while you are with your teenager. It could be a beautiful sunset or no line at the bank. When you show your teen that there is much to be appreciated, they begin to notice good things in their own life too.
Give your teen a gratitude journal
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A gratitude journal is simply a notebook to write down things that your teen is thankful for today. There are thousands of options online, but I like this one because it gives your teen helpful tips and plenty of space to write out their thoughts.
Don’t stress if buying an official gratitude journal is not in your budget. Do you have a notebook lying around your house? Or can you grab one from the dollar store? The point of this exercise is to appreciate the positive things in life, not to spend a lot of money.
Mention thankfulness every day
Make gratitude part of your family culture by discussing it every day. In our house, we ask the kids at dinner, “What was the best part of your day?” This teaches them to look for the good things in their lives.
If dinner is hectic in your house, ask them at bedtime instead. Or each morning, have them reflect on the day before. The important thing is to make it part of your daily routine.
One more tip to mention with this: praise your teens when they show gratefulness, even if it doesn’t meet your expectations. For example, sometimes when I ask my teenagers, “What was the best part of your day?” their reply isn’t exactly what I am expecting. They might say something like “I’m thankful that I got to play video games after school. ”
While it might seem trivial or like they didn’t put much thought into their answer, try to go along with it. In that example, I might reply, “That’s great. I know video games help you relax and unwind.”
I would rather my teens come up with an honest answer of something they are thankful for, instead of searching for what they think I want to hear.
Teach your teens to appreciate others
Teenagers should be thankful for what other people do for them. One way to teach them this is to let them do things for themselves that other people normally do for them.
For example, if you always take care of the laundry, let them handle it for a week. This will show your teens the amount of work that is involved and teach them to be grateful to you for taking the time to do it for them.
Find positive role models
Let’s revisit the social media point. If you went on your teenager’s phone right now and checked out their social media accounts, what would you find? Who are they following? Positive role models, who teach them to give back to their community or people who make your teen feel “less than enough”?
Ask your teen to add a few people on social media who are passionate about volunteering, helping others and making a positive impact on the world. When you change what your teens see on a daily basis, you can help change the way they see the world.
Bad days can teach your teen to be thankful
Let’s face it; everyone has a bad day once in a while. And when your teen has a rough one, it can be difficult for them to find something positive that happened that day.
But sometimes a bad day can be the best way to teach your teens to be thankful. Have you ever heard the expression, “You can’t appreciate the good things in life if you never experience the bad things”?
A bad day can teach your teenagers to find the lesson or the silver lining. And teens who can step back, examine the situation and find the good are learning valuable lessons that will help them later in life.
Volunteering does not need to be a big deal. It can be as simple as mowing the neighbor’s lawn or returning a cart at the grocery store for an elderly customer. Teenagers can easily make a meal for a sick relative or babysit for a new mom.
If your teen likes the idea of a more regular volunteering experience, try to match them up with their passions. Animal lovers can donate their time to the local animal shelter. Environmentalists can adopt a highway and clean up litter.
Remember to talk to your teenager after they participate in a volunteer activity. Ask them how it made them feel. Make sure they understand how helpful they were and how much it was appreciated by the recipient.
Write thank you notes
Not only are thank you cards a sign of good manners, but they are also a great way to express gratitude. Buy your teen a package of blank notecards, like these and have them write thank you notes to people regularly.
Thank you cards are not just for birthdays and holidays. Your teen can write them for their friends, teachers or co-workers too. It’s a nice way to say thank you for any help they received. For example, if a friend helps them study for a test, your teen could send a card thanking them. It is an unexpected gesture that means a lot to people.
Small, random acts of kindness
Teach your teens to do little things on a daily basis to make the world a better place. And remember, you should model this behavior too.
Kindness is contagious so make sure everyone in your family is practicing acts of kindness on a regular basis. This could be something simple, like holding the door for a stranger or letting someone in front of you in traffic. You could leave a bigger tip than usual or pay for someone’s morning coffee.
It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or take a lot of your time. Focus on bringing a smile to someone’s face and let your instincts lead you.
Keep teaching your teen to be thankful
Lots of parents focus on November as a month to be grateful, but don’t stop just because the month is over. The benefits of teaching your teen to be thankful can last a lifetime and better your entire family.
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