Gratitude might not seem to emanate from your teen, particularly when it comes to things that you and other adults do for him or her on a regular basis. Is there any hope of helping your teenager, who might be a bit self-involved, cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Yes, there is! While self-centeredness is a developmentally appropriate characteristic of adolescence, your teen is also now logical and rational enough to understand the importance of thankfulness and to learn how to express it. Read on for tips on raising a grateful teen who will become a grateful adult.
When you go throughout your day, there are a lot of times when you can model gratitude yourself. From saying, “wow, what a beautiful day it is!” first thing in the morning to talking about what you were grateful for during your dinnertime conversation, you will have many chances to see the silver linings that show up in the average day.
Be sure to not only thank cashiers, waiters, and others who serve you but also to mention to your teen why you are thankful for the job that they did. If someone goes above and beyond in the course of their job, consider writing a letter to their supervisor to applaud them. If something out of the ordinary happens, such as a job promotion or finding a piece of jewelry that you lost days ago, express your gratitude in front of your teenager. These types of behaviors can set a great example for your children.
Teens sometimes need to be reminded to express their gratitude. It can seem unnatural and awkward for them to go out of their way to say “thank you,” but it should be encouraged, just as you would prompt them to express their thanks when they were small. While it is probably second nature by now for your teen to say “thanks” when a waiter brings their food or when someone holds a door, expressing true gratitude for less ordinary interactions can make your teen feel awkward. This is simply a hallmark of adolescence.
So encourage your teen when needed. If a teacher works with your teen several days per week to help him or her understand their math or science work, suggest that your teen write them a thank you note, for example. You can help them pick out a small hostess gift if they are invited to spend a weekend traveling with a friend’s family. Even if your teen resists now, they will remember later that expressing gratitude is something that is expected and encouraged.
Give Your Teen a Gratitude Journal
Writing down things that we are grateful for not only helps us to remember them later but also encourages us to look for little blessings throughout the day. A gratitude journal is a notebook or journal that provides a place for writing down things the recipient is thankful for each day, each week, or on whatever frequency they choose. If your teen likes to write and journal, consider purchasing a special journal for this purpose. (You can also use any type of notebook or bound book for this project; it does not have to be a special gratitude journal sold for that purpose.)
Do they need some ideas? There are a lot of prompts available online. Here are a few suggestions to get your teen started:
- What is the best song you heard today, and where were you?
- What hobbies do you have that bring you happiness?
- Describe a time when something good came out of a bad situation.
- What is your favorite family tradition?
- Name three beautiful things you saw today.
- What is your favorite smell, and what feelings does it evoke?
- What is something that made you smile today?
Expect Your Teen to Volunteer
Many schools require students to volunteer in the community. Also, if your teen wants to go to college, many universities look for applicants who give back in some way. If these alone weren’t great reasons to encourage your teen to volunteer, consider that volunteer work makes people more grateful for their own circumstances.
Remember that volunteering generally helps a person or a group who might not have the resources to help themselves. For example, homeless dogs and cats who live at animal shelters rely on volunteers to walk them, clean their cages, and show them love until a family is found. People who visit soup kitchens for their evening meal do not have the funds or resources to prepare their own food. Parents of children staying in the hospital for treatment might not be able to go to their own homes and need meals and snacks provided so they can be close to their child. Any of these opportunities can help your teen realize that they have a home, food, a way to prepare meals, and the peace of mind that comes with having their family members in good health.
Don’t Give Up
While you can require your teen to write thank-you notes, sign them up to volunteer with a nonprofit organization, buy them a gratitude journal, and model thankfulness in your daily life, it is quite possible that you won’t see any real results in the form of unsolicited thankfulness for some time.
Keep in mind that teens are self-involved in general and that this is perfectly normal in this phase of life. Your teen has a lot of internal and external changes to cope with and, to top it off, your teen is trying to assert his or her own independence. As the years go by, your teen will begin to see where credit is due when it comes to who has been providing for them and making their life easier. For now, though, consistent modeling, encouragement, and, when needed, behavior modification are going to be your most effective tools to help your teen become more grateful. In a few years, you should be able to see the fruit of your labors, and that is something you will be thankful for!