Teaching Teens Gratitude

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May 14, 2010 by middleearthnj

Happiness often has its roots in a person’s sense of gratitude. A grateful person is generally a more pleasant person to be with than someone who is bitter. There are many reasons why gratitude is a trait we want to encourage in our children, including the fact that grateful children are more enjoyable to raise. Although we cannot demand teenagers to be grateful, there are many ways that we, as adults, can encourage teens to develop a grateful outlook on life.

Help teens see the difference between rights and privileges. In today’s world of modern conveniences, we take many things for granted. For example, it is a child’s right to be clothed, but it is a privilege for them to wear designer jeans. Lecturing a teen on this idea won’t help, but having open conversations with your teens – about the living conditions in other parts of the world, or a situation where people’s rights were violated, or even a story about teens who do not have as many privileges – will help to bring home this point. Reiterate in conversations and actions the things that your teen has to be grateful for. Sometimes you may need to explain why it’s important to be grateful when someone helps them out since children sometimes have the belief that people ‘should’ do things for them. Try pointing out that the person who helps them has a choice – to get their own things done or stopping their work to help your child with no benefit to them.

Satisfy needs, but delay wants. When children receive material possessions too often or easily, they can develop a sense of entitlement. Teens are entitled to having their basic needs met, but they should earn their privileges, lest they become unappreciative or selfish. Avoid buying things “on the spot” because your child has shown an interest, which will train your child to expect that their desires will be fulfilled immediately. Instead, wait awhile and then revisit the idea to see if their interest has waned. Resist the temptation to give in to every desire. Kids often “want” an item based on the advertising, packaging, and “coolness factor” rather than because they will actually use or enjoy it. Help kids learn how to critically evaluate their requests by prioritizing their “wish lists” and verbalizing the reasons behind their choices. Encourage your child to try to earn money to purchase the item they want. They will appreciate the item much more if they worked towards buying it themselves.

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. Every day think of, or write down, at least one thing that you appreciated or that you are grateful for. Many studies have shown that this simple act leads to positive change, a greater sense of happiness and a positive attitude. Always write thank-you notes for gifts or acts of kindness and require the same of your children. A thank-you note is a good learning tool and good manners for your teens. Make sure kids mention the gift by name, share something specific they like about the gift or how they will use it, and include a statement of gratitude. Our own gratitude shows teens that it’s important to be grateful even for both small and grand gestures.

Praise their efforts. It is easy for parents to get caught up in all the times your teen should have shown gratitude and did not. Instead, try to praise them for the times they made any small effort to show gratitude, and encourage more of it. Most learning is done by seeing examples, so if you want to help your teen be more grateful, start looking for small things to show them gratitude. For example, while you might expect your teen to clear their dishes after dinner, it is a good thing to praise.

Encourage Service. 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. Volunteering as a family at a local charity can provide quality bonding time and help teens recognize their own blessings more readily. Visit our blog from December on Teens and Volunteerism to learn more benefits and tips for getting them involved.

Gratitude is a state of mind. Surround your teen with gratitude – grateful people, things to be grateful for, and models of gratitude – and soon your child will get the picture.

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