Teach Teens About Gratitude (article featured in The Tennessean)
In a fast paced society of immediate gratification and focus on achievement, we have quickly become motivated by competing with others to have the most desired possessions, the fastest cars, the biggest homes, and the largest bank accounts. Social media sites have capitalized on our tendency to compare and outdo, and entrepreneurs are making careers out of blogging about the trendiest hairstyles, wardrobes, recipes, and home improvement projects. Of particular concern is the impact that this sense of competition and “win at all costs” attitude is having on our teens. Because they are often watching parents and other adults fall culprit to this sense of competition and need for luxurious possessions, they, too, are feeling the pressure to have the best, be the best, and display the best to their peers.
Competitiveness and achievement, in and of themselves, are not inherently bad traits. In fact, these two factors are quite beneficial in creating a happy life and propelling many teens into successful, charitable adulthoods. But, when the need to “win” is exclusively inspired by extrinsic motivation and the desire to have the most and the best tangible possessions, our teens are going to be disappointed in the long run. Contrary to popular belief, acquiring expensive things and one upping our peers doesn’t make us happy. Perhaps we need to take some time to ensure that we are communicating this to our teens and helping them to develop a value system based on genuine intrinsic desires. Here are some tips for instilling gratitude in our teens and helping them to focus on developing a more profound value system.
Expose them to people from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Allow them to interact with people who differ from themselves. Teach them about socioeconomic differences, poverty, and political issues. Cultivate their interest in social issues and bettering the lives of others.
Choose your closest friends wisely. As a parent, you may be unintentionally exposing your teens to people who are teaching them a value system that does not align with yours. It’s not necessary to de-friend people who tend to focus more on worldly possessions and competition, but it is important to recognize who is spending the most time around your family. If your closest friends are more giving and less greedy, then your teens are going to be indirectly receiving exposure to positive influences and a more altruistic social circle.
Take a break from electronics and social media. Slow down and disconnect from cyberspace. We are constantly superficially connected and unnecessarily comparing our lives to others via the Internet. Taking a time- out from smart phones, computers, and television will require both us and them to attend to one another and spend family time interacting. Shifting their cognition from a screen to the outdoors will facilitate their ability to shut off that need to superficially connect and will increase their desire for more authentic interaction.
Teach gratitude. Require them to work for what they want. Resist the impulse to purchase them the newest, most popular big-ticket item and require that they work, save, and contemplate the need for such things. If and when they do make the purchase, they will appreciate it much more and likely take better care of their belongings.
Lastly, carve out time for one-on-one discussions about values. Our teens are intelligent, mature, and more advanced than their previous generations. However, they still need our guidance and leadership. They crave our one-on-one attention and interest in their questions. Setting time aside to talk with them about issues that are important to you and them, answering questions in a nonjudgmental fashion, and communicating your support for them can teach them much more than they will ever learn from any social media site or television series.