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  • Dawn Spragg

So You Want Your Teen to Be Happy

With Thanksgiving this week, I've been thinking a lot about gratitude. Gratitude can act as a bond between people. If someone has been kind to you, or done you a service, you are naturally inclined to go out of your way for them. Not surprisingly, there is a growing body of research that shows that there is an association between feeling thankful and feeling contented.

I find this interesting because as parents, youth workers and teachers we tend to work towards our children's sense of well being from the outside-in. We imagine that if our children do well in school, or sports, that they will be confident, and at ease with themselves. We spend a lot of money paying for soccer, dance and piano, and supplement this with extra lessons and exclusive summer camps all in an effort to increase our children's self esteem and sense of well being.

And yet according to at least one of the studies that I mentioned above, we might be better off teaching our teens how to count their blessings. So this November, try encouraging your teen to keep a gratitude journal, or incorporate discussions of those things for which you are greatful at family meals.

Another great way to foster gratitude in your teenager is through volunteering. Serving others promotes empathy; it helps us understand the breadth of other people's challenges, and by doing so reminds us of the ways in which we ourselves are fortunate. Caring for others is an inside-out way of building a teen's self esteem and well-being.

TASC, the organization for which I work, runs a program called In-service for teens who want to make changes to the community. Mothers and sons can also volunteer together with the Young Men's Service League. Our high schools all have community service clubs, and non profits in the area actively recruit volunteers. Public libraries and NWA's Food Bank are both receptive to teen volunteers.

We don't all experience gratitude in the same way, so allow your teens to explore different paths to find one that connect with their understanding of self.

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