Teens who express gratitude for their situation in life are happier and less likely to be depressed, according to a new study
presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting in August. The California State University study of more than 700 students age 10 to 14 found grateful teens were more satisfied, happy and hopeful about their lives.
Parents hoping to encourage their teens to count their blessings should tread carefully, however, says Sandy Soenning, PhD, a psychologist with The Menninger Clinic’s Adolescent Treatment Program
“Whatever you do, don’t lecture them and tell them they should be grateful,” laughs Dr. Soenning. “That approach would only backfire on you.”
She suggests the following ways to encourage gratefulness:
Model gratefulness—Frequently give thanks for what you value, such as your home, job, family and friends. Often parents don’t realize the powerful impact they have on their teens, Dr. Soenning says. “While teens may act like they don’t want your advice, they still watch what you do and listen to what you say.”
Help your teens help others—When you are feeling down,“Lock up your house, go across the railroad tracks, find someone in need and do something for them,” said Menninger co-founder Karl Menninger, MD, whose sage advice also works for today’s teens. “Volunteer work is a great way to give teens perspective on their lives,” Dr. Soenning says, adding that parents can help teens find a cause that appeals to them. For example, less social teens may like to work with animals instead of people.
Make it a habit—Dr. Soenning encourages the depressed and anxious teens she treats to create a “comfort box” and regularly fill it with pictures of what (or who) they are thankful for in life. “They can also write in a daily journal or write letters expressing their gratitude,” she says, adding that teens should choose the method they like best.