Fall is a season known for feel-good traditions like autumn leaves changing color, all things pumpkin spice, and Friday night football. It’s also when people are reminded to reflect on the things they’re grateful for. This spirit of gratitude is most often a result of life experience, since those of us with more years under our belts have seen our share of the highs and the lows that provide a reference point for gratitude.
Teens, on the other hand, have gotten a bad rap for being stereotypically ungrateful. This isn’t true of all teens, but it can often seem that way based on a teen’s outward behaviors. Rather than just dismiss it as “that’s just how teenagers are,” parents and mentors should foster an attitude of gratitude with the teens they love.
According to research by the Greater Good Science Center, grateful youth are happier and more satisfied with their lives than their less grateful peers. They also perform better academically, are more engaged in extracurricular pursuits, and report less anxiety and depression. In short, gratitude is a powerful element of health and well-being, which is especially needed in the teen years.
Here are a few ways any parent, grandparent, or other caring adult can nurture an attitude of gratitude with the teens in their life:
Start a daily practice of gratitude expression
When done as a family activity, it sets an expectation for everyone without making the teen feel singled out. This can be done with cards that are stuck on a large posterboard, or small strips of paper that get put in a jar. Get creative! The point is to help the teen make a daily habit of pausing to identify and acknowledge something positive in their life for which to be thankful.
Encourage random acts of kindness
In a curriculum for teaching teens about gratitude, researcher Giacomo Bono explains, “Each act of kindness has a cost to the person who performs it. The cost may include time, effort, or something was given up, as well as any financial cost. When we understand those costs, we gain a deeper appreciation of the person who acted in a caring way.” In essence, when a teen thoughtfully does something kind for another person, they get a better understanding of the caring acts others have done for them as well.
Make time to get hands-on helping those less fortunate
Teens respond very well to first-person, hands-on activities where they can see the impact they’re making. Rather than tell them about how much they have to be grateful for in comparison to others, let them experience it for themselves first-hand by volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. There are plenty of opportunities within your community this time of year, and it’s a great activity to do as a family activity.
While you can’t force your teen to be grateful, you can be intentional about making opportunities for reflection, service, and authentic conversation that will foster a spirit of gratitude. A thankful heart is well-known to have multiple benefits to physical, mental and emotional health, something we all want for our teens.
Help us empower the next generation for financial success!
The Center for Financial Empowerment is the nonprofit organization founded by SCE Federal Credit Union, and whose mission is to break the cycle of generational poverty by empowering disadvantaged youth through financial literacy education. Find out more about our work at Center4FE.org.