Grateful teenager is not an oxymoron. I have a surefire way to create grateful teenagers. Send them to an island with no running water, no electricity, no indoor plumbing, very few trucks and even fewer cars for two months in the middle of summer. And did I mention no fast food?
Remove the internet, cell phone, shower/tub, toilet, hair dryer, washing machine and mom, dryer, dishwasher, stove, oven, air conditioner, McDonalds, and Starbucks for eight long weeks; at the end you have one amazingly grateful teenager.
Sound like drastic measures? That is what my daughter chose to do just a few days after her 16th birthday. She, and 24 other teenagers, chose to spend two weeks in Florida, sans the basic comforts of the 21st century, preparing to live on a primitive island in the South Pacific for another six weeks carrying rocks and dirt, laying concrete blocks to build a community building.
When she returned home, she had tremendous appreciation for so many of the things she had previously taken for granted.
Her behavior reminded me of Gilbert K Chesterton’s words, “When it comes to life the critical things is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” She couldn’t stop talking about how great it was to be back and how many things she appreciated about home. Despite all the hardships it had been a good experience, one she would choose to repeat two years later in Africa.
Obviously, the majority of teens can’t live on a primitive island for two months—nor would many chose to do so. However, there are many teens who find other ways to give of themselves and help those in need.
They serve in soup kitchens and food pantries, volunteer at child care centers and orphanages, package meals, gather clothing, and raise funds to help the homeless. Studies show that grateful people are 20 times more generous with their time and money. One could debate: is it the generosity that creates the gratitude or the gratitude that creates the generosity. In either case, the outcome is positive.
If you want your teens to be grateful, start modeling grateful behavior when they are young. Teach your children to help others by showing them what gratefulness looks like in life each day. Set a good example by volunteering at a local nonprofit or donating to food and clothing drives. If you’re a business owner, look for opportunities to hire those who are looking for a hand up, give your employees opportunities to volunteer as a team, join a Rotary, Sertoma, or Kiwanis club, support your United Way, and involve your family in these activities.
And, by the way, grateful teens are ten times less likely to smoke and 20 times more likely to make A’s in class. And they are happier!
Teens are not always grateful, but neither are adults. We all have our narcissistic moments. The goal is to focus on being grateful for the things and people in our lives as often as possible – especially our teenagers!