Most parents try to teach their children to say “please” and “thank you” from the time they are in diapers. It’s proper etiquette, and if we’re honest, culturally expected.
Your teen has (I hope) mastered the art of habitually saying “thanks” when appropriate. You are now in a critical window of time where one of the best things you can teach your teen is to not only say thanks, but have an attitude of gratefulness. Why? Because a grateful heart is the secret key to happiness.
The best recipe for instilling authentic gratitude in your teen is to model it yourself. Rather than complaining all the time in your teen’s presence, look for the good in the midst of the bad. Then, verbalize it by speaking “gratitude” language. When you’ve had a bad day at work, you can say, “Today was really hard at work, but I’m thankful that I have a good job.” If the refrigerator breaks, tell your kids. “I’m so grateful for all of the technology in this house that is still working!” When you see a homeless person you might say, “I am grateful for my bed, aren’t you? Let’s pray for him.” And though it may sound corny, tell your teens how grateful you are God appointed them to you. They will smile inside.
Every day, think of one thing you are grateful for and communicate this to your teen. It might appear they are tuning you out, but kids absorb more than we think they do. I can guarantee your teen is paying attention.
Looking for ways to be grateful may be a discipline you will have to develop in your own life too, so that you can pass it on to your teen. Being grateful for what one has is one of the best secrets for successful living; fostering gratefulness in yourself will enhance your entire family’s life and give your teen the direction they need to cultivate their own happiness.
Developing gratefulness in your teen takes long-term commitment from you, the parent. However, the benefits are long-term as well . . . and priceless.
According to a study by Froh, Sefick and Emmons, “Children who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and their families.” The study revealed gratitude is associated with appreciating close relationships and feeling better about both life and school.
Students in the study who kept a gratitude journal for only three weeks had an increased grade point average over the course of a year. They were more sensitive to situations where they themselves could be helpful, altruistic, generous or compassionate—and were less destructive. Research shows ungrateful youth are less satisfied with their lives and are more apt to be aggressive and engage in risk-taking behaviors. The effect of a grateful attitude is worth the effort as a parent, wouldn’t you agree?
One powerful way for teens to learn gratefulness is to go on a family mission trip. Spending a week in Leon, Nicaragua building houses for very poor families will leave an imprint on your teen that will be more powerful than your words. Some families hop in the car and drive downtown to bring sandwiches and hot drinks to the homeless. You can also serve food at a soup kitchen or volunteer after a natural disaster. Though your teen might scowl at the idea at first, they will be transformed on the inside by what they see.
Human beings were designed by God to live a posture of grateful worship. Your job as a parent is to gently turn their hearts from what they are ungrateful for to Whom they are grateful to.
Ultimately, teaching your teen gratefulness aligns with the Word of God. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
I am praying for you and your family! Please don’t hesitate to email me if you have questions or concerns. I’m here for you.