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As parents of teens, we all seek answers and insight on how to maneuver through what can be an emotional and challenging season. We long to experience inner peace and harmony but often struggle to maintain this state of being. The constant flux of feelings and push/pull of demands as our kids bloom into independence takes a toll on both sides of the relationship.
Turns out the magic pill for helping both parents and teens cope with all the uncertainty and turbulence surrounding these years is GRATITUDE.
Being conscious and thankful for what we do have and what’s going well in our lives goes a forever way to combat the ill will of negativity when things get wonky.
Why gratitude is important
According to neuroscience experts, gratitude has the highest correlation with overall well-being than any other character trait. Gratitude is good for mental health, physical health, and social health.
The short list of benefits includes more energy, higher emotional intelligence, less depression and anxiety, more social connection and healthier communication, better sleep, and a stronger immune system.
Gratitude literally helps our body produce the love chemicals of serotonin and dopamine, which bubbles up happiness inside us. This is a quick and holistic reprieve for when we are overwhelmed and stuck in a loop of stress and negativity, which produces unhealthy fear chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol.
All these benefits mean incorporating gratitude practice into our life is a no-brainer for both our teens AND us as parents. It’s the simplest, fastest, and most cost-effective way to improve our health, relationships, and overall well-being.
Why parents and teenagers should practice gratitude together
Today’s teenagers are raised with everything at their fingertips and often fall prey to the need for instant gratification. Couple this with typical teen issues, such as peer pressure, academics, raging hormones, and a developing brain, and it can be challenging for you to get them to appreciate the little things in life.
Parents of teenagers face a similar plight during these difficult years. Mid-life often finds parents sandwiched between meeting their child’s needs and caring for aging parents, balancing a career and staying available to their families, and taking care of their health while caring for everyone else.
This constant state of stress can cause us to get caught in a rut of strife with our teenagers, only seeing the negative. By integrating gratitude into your routine, no matter how hokey it feels or the complaints you receive from your big kids, you can start to recognize the beautiful things happening right in front of your eyes, eventually forging a more peaceful relationship between you and your child.
Science backs this up. Grateful kids are happier, more hopeful, and achieve higher GPAs, but more importantly, they experience less envy, fewer self-esteem issues, and less anxiety and depression.
Practicing gratitude is particularly beneficial for teenagers who face a rollercoaster of complex emotions each day. Gratitude can soften the edges of those highs and lows and bring some peace to their evolving world. Even participating in a few simple exercises can help a teen feel calmer and more connected to the people, places, and things around them.
How to start incorporating gratitude into your life
Let’s be honest: most teens won’t act super excited when you bring up the topic of gratitude. Most teens will roll their eyes and may act belligerent.
Don’t give up. They are trying to make it hard for you. Gratitude is a major mental shift, and it can be challenging to change your mindset, especially if you think you don’t need to do so.
But that doesn’t mean it is impossible, and with a good attitude from the parents, you can make it happen in your home. It’s important that we model an attitude of gratitude and not just talk about it with our teens. They need to see us walking the talk and the shared experience helps deepen the lesson.
Here are seven simple practices we can implement alongside our teens to make gratitude an integral part of our everyday experience.
Whatever practice you choose, commit to 30 days minimum and notice what changes you see in your teen and yourself—and talk about these changes with each other.
Practice finding gratitude for the hard stuff and difficult people in life
In my own experience, the practice of being grateful for the challenges of life continues to reap the greatest reward. Life is learning school and every gnarly situation and gritty relationship contains a gift within for our personal growth and transformation. If we can teach our teens early on that life happens for us, and not to us, we set them up to handle adversity in a healthy way. They learn not to tie their happiness to external outcomes and to cultivate joy from within.
To practice, when you begin to feel judgmental or critical toward something or someone, intentionally shift your perspective.
Ask what lesson is tucked inside the experience. Find something good about the situation and the people in it. And be thankful in advance for what you can learn about yourself and others.
Have honest conversations with your teen about the experience. What were you unhappy about that you shifted into gratefulness? What did you learn?
Write notes of appreciation to people who’ve really made a difference, and when possible, read them out loud to them
I’m always moved and saddened when I attend funerals and listen to all the heartfelt outpourings of love spoken about the deceased person. Too often, these sentiments were never spoken when the person was alive.
Our lives are so busy that we don’t take the time to tell the people who mean the most to us how we feel unless it’s a birthday or special event, and even then, we may not take the time to really reflect and express our thanks adequately.
Our teens need to hear from us how grateful we are for them on a regular basis. Their self-esteem is so fragile at this age, so pointing out our appreciation goes a long way in building up their resolve.
The happiness they feel on the receiving end will encourage them to do the same to others. The power of speaking our gratitude to others out loud cannot be matched.
Take a look at this An Experience in Gratitude: The Science of Happiness project on Soul Pancake. Several high school teachers have shown this video to the teens in their classrooms and implemented the practice with tremendous results.
Keep a gratitude jar in the house and commit to adding thankful notes each day–then read them all at the end of 30 days
Making this a family activity builds the energy around the practice. As your kids see the jar start to fill, they will want to add more to the collection. And the anticipation of reading the notes at a future date gives everyone something to look forward to.
We created a gratitude box in our family 15 years ago that we add to each holiday season and then pick random notes out each Christmas Eve to read aloud. It’s a beautiful tradition and reminder of our blessings we look forward to reminiscing about each year.
Keep a gratitude journal that you write in each morning or evening
Starting your day with notes of gratitude is an excellent way to get centered and grounded before the busyness of life takes over. Ending your day with gratitude helps calm the nervous system before sleep. Regardless of when you write in the journal, here are a few prompts to consider:
What are you grateful for in your personal life?
What are you grateful for at school/work?
What are you grateful for about yourself?
What is something good that happened today?
It’s so important to include gratitude for self. Teens especially struggle with self-esteem, body image, and love and belonging. Encouraging them to practice self-love is of utmost importance. And parents need this too!
The important thing is to make sure the journal isn’t just a list. Really sit with what you are grateful for and allow the emotions to build around the sentiments to create lasting change within.
Note: while we think the actual handwriting journal is best, the editors of Parenting Teens & Tweens also like the app Three Good Things to log gratitude each day.
Create a daily contest using counting clickers to see how many things you can be grateful for
Do you know the hand clickers people use to count attendance at events? Get some of those and start a daily contest to see how many clicks you can accumulate around things you are grateful for. Then talk about what you counted around the dinner table.
My middle son did something similar when he was 17 years old, which was more of a personal challenge. Every time he was thankful for something, including seeing something beautiful in nature, he would make the sign of the cross on his chest. It became so habitual; he started making the sign unconsciously.
I would notice and ask him, “What are you thankful for in this moment?” He would often be surprised and say, “I didn’t even realize I made the cross, but this is what I was thinking about…” It proves that gratitude can turn into a habit that changes our entire mindset.
Fill the house with post-it notes full of gratitude messages
This was a practice I learned about from Ann Voskamp in her book One Thousand Gifts, which I highly recommend. While I didn’t write post-it notes, I did make a list of about five thousand things in a journal back in 2014. It was an incredible experience.
But the post-it notes all over the house are a beautiful reminder for you and your teen each day. Place them in the bathrooms, the kitchen, the family room, the bedrooms, the garage, the basement–every nook and cranny.
Plus, these notes become amazing talking points for guests and your teen’s friends who come to visit.
Practice Grateful Flow
This practice is straight from Phil Stutz & Barry Michel’s book, Coming Alive: 4 Tools to Defeat Your Inner Enemy, Ignite Creative Expression & Unleash Your Soul’s Potential.
“Use this tool when your mind is filled with worry, self-hatred, or negative thinking. The tool connects you to a higher force of gratefulness that dissolves negativity.
LIST WHAT YOU’RE GRATEFUL FOR: Start by silently stating to yourself specific things in your life you’re grateful for, particularly items you’d normally take for granted. You can also include bad things that aren’t happening. Go slowly so you really feel the gratefulness for each item. Don’t use the same items each time you use the tool. You should feel a slight strain from having to come up with new ideas.
FOCUS ON THE FEELING OF GRATEFULNESS: Stop thinking and focus on the physical sensation of gratefulness. You’ll feel it coming directly from your heart. This energy you are giving out is the Grateful Flow.
CONNECT TO THE SOURCE: As this energy emanates from your heart, your chest will soften and open. In this state, you will feel an overwhelming presence approach you, filled with the power of infinite giving. You’ve made a connection to the Source.”
This is how movements get started, and inspiring others to practice gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving.
*We love this gratitude journal, Things That Don’t Suck, for teenagers who don’t think practicing gratitude is for them
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