In the spirit of Thanksgiving this upcoming week, I thought it seemed like a good idea to write about gratitude. Having an attitude of gratitude is one of the best ways to feel happy, have others love being around you, and enjoy your life. If you can teach your children how to feel grateful, they will get along in life much better than someone with an entitled attitude. How can you impart gratitude to your teens?
The first thing you must do is teach them to work. Teenagers who understand that work equals getting things they want/need actually have much higher self-esteem. It seems backwards. It’s easy to understand how a lot of parents believe if their teenager is provided every opportunity that they as parents really had to struggle for, their teenagers will go father than them in life. It’s a baffling experience for a lot of parents when they discover all their good intentions had the reverse effect. Teenagers who learn that they get a cell phone when they pay a piece of the bill, or have their parents fill their gas tank after they wash mom or dad’s car, are extremely grateful kids. They don’t assume their parents owe them things just because that’s what other kids have. Instead, they are overjoyed when their parents do help them out, but also very proud of themselves for earning their way.
The next thing that is important in teaching gratitude is modeling it. If you are someone who complains about your situation all the time, there’s a good chance you make little comments in front of your kids. On the other hand, if you constantly mention the ways you know you’re blessed, your children learn to be thankful in all things. For example, let’s say you’re struggling with money. You could complain about how this Christmas is going to be a huge let-down. The other option you have is to express that you’re grateful for everyone in the family sacrificing so the whole family has a better financial situation going into the New Year. Same situation, entirely different lesson being taught to your teens.
Lastly, don’t compare. If you don’t make comparisons about who has it better than you, then your teens will be less likely to learn this bad habit. When you do hear them say things like that, gently correct them. Whether we’re where we want to be or not, we have a God-given duty to be content and thankful. We don’t need to be complacent, which means that we’ve stopped striving for better, but we do need to be content.
My hope is that you have a thankful, enjoyable Thanksgiving. I also hope you use this time to teach your kids how to be grateful in everything they go through in life. Be very clear that as Pastor Rick Warren would say, nobody should be thankful FOR all things; you don’t need to be thankful for cancer. However, you do need to be thankful IN all things because there is always a blessing, not matter how small.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT