You might be surprised to find out that something as simple as gratitude can lead to big results when it comes to your teenager’s physical and mental health. Teenagers are often egocentric and aren’t always good at expressing their thankfulness. As the parent of a teen, it’s important to encourage gratefulness without preaching or judging; as your teen grows into adulthood, good examples of an attitude of gratitude will stick with them. Check out this list of six ways that gratitude can improve teen health, both mentally and physically, as well as a few ways that you can encourage your teen to be more grateful.
1. Gratitude Can Make Your Teen Happier
People who are grateful are generally happier than those who can’t find anything to be thankful about. Also, people who can find one thing to be thankful for can often find another (and another) thing to be thankful for. Gratitude begets gratitude, and gratitude also begets happiness. When you are thinking about all of the blessings that you have, it’s hard to stay in a bad mood!
The teen years are often rife with mood swings, so anything that will cause your adolescent to be on a more even keel is beneficial not only to them but also to you, their parent!
2. Gratitude Can Help Your Teen Sleep Better
Sleep deprivation is very common in the teen years. According to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the average teenager needs 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night. Most are getting around seven hours each night. A lack of sleep can impact school performance, make teens more likely to develop depression, and even suppress the immune system.
Taking a few minutes at the end of each day to think or journal about what they’re grateful for can make it easier for your teen to drift off to sleep. It can also help them stay asleep and get deeper sleep. The mental and physical effects of getting enough sleep can boost teen health significantly.
3. Gratitude Can Improve Your Teen’s Relationships
Being grateful for things in your own life helps you to “pay it forward” to other. This naturally leads to better, stronger relationships. Imagine how your relationship with your teen might change if you were both telling and showing the other how much you appreciated one another. Think about how it would change other relationships in your life. This is what your teen can experience by being more grateful and expressing that gratitude.
Improved relationships can make your teen feel better about him- or herself. They can also help your teen overcome depression, social anxiety, and other mental health issues. Spending time with people reduces isolation and boosts both mental and physical health.
4. Gratitude Can Make Your Teen’s Heart Healthier
You might not realize it, but being more grateful can boost your teen’s heart health. There’s evidence that gratitude can do the following:
- boost the amount of time someone spends exercising
- lower blood pressure and cholesterol
- reduce the incidence of heart disease
One reason this might be is that people who are grateful are more likely than others to volunteer to help others in the community. For teens who are often sedentary due to the demands of school and homework and the pleasure of video games and texting, getting out and helping others can add physical movement to their day that they otherwise might not get. This can improve heart health. Gratitude also reduces stress, which is great for reducing high blood pressure and ultimately improving teen health.
5. Gratitude Can Reduce Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety
Another way in which gratitude can improve teen health is by minimizing symptoms of depression and anxiety. If your teen is struggling with either of these mental health concerns, you might suggest that they take steps toward being more grateful. This works by distracting the person, encouraging them to focus on the positive, and, often, getting them out of the house and doing things with other people. All of these, coupled with lifestyle changes like more exercise and more sleep (both of which gratitude helps with), can reduce symptoms and make life easier for those struggling with anxiety or depression.
6. Gratitude Can Help You (and Your Teen) Live Longer
With all of the mental and physical benefits of gratitude, practicing it can help your teen live longer. You might not think it’s much of an issue now because your teen is so young. Keep in mind, however, that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a lifelong habit. Getting into that habit during the teen years can stretch it across the rest of your child’s life. Also, practicing it yourself can help you live longer, which is often of concern by middle age.
Ways to Encourage Your Teen to Be More Grateful
Now that you know the benefits of gratitude on teen health, you might want to know how you can help your teen to be more grateful. Here are a few tips:
- Encourage your teen to journal. Starting a gratitude journal will give your teen something to look back on next week, next year, or next decade. Have him or her write down a few things each day that they’re grateful for. It might be something small (spaghetti or dinner) or large (hardworking parents who love them unconditionally). Your child can use journal prompts if they are having trouble thinking of what to write.
- Take your teen with you to volunteer. Talk to them about what types of organizations they might like to support, and go from there. If your teen has a soft spot for animals, a humane society or no-kill cat shelter might be a good place to go. If they would like to help the homeless, find out if they can volunteer at the homeless coalition in your area.
- Model gratefulness in your own life. Show gratitude in public and in private. Write thank you letters (and let your teen see you do it!) and talk about what you’re thankful for regularly.
As a parent, it can be frustrating when teens aren’t as grateful as we’d like. By gently setting a good example and encouraging them to look past themselves and consider what they’re thankful for, we can have a positive impact on their mental and physical health. November is a good time to start inspiring an attitude of gratitude, so try to get started soon!