When my children were young, we created a Thankful Tree tradition. Every November, we trekked into the woods behind our house, looking for the perfect fallen branch to serve as our tree. We secured it in a flowerpot and placed it in the middle of our kitchen counter. Then, we cut out leaf patterns from construction paper and placed them in a bowl next to the tree. After dinner everyone selected a paper leaf, wrote down something they were thankful for, and taped it onto the tree. By the end of the month, the branches and our hearts were overflowing with our many blessings.
As our children become teenagers, traditions like this might seem childish. Plus, our teens are busy, and we are, too. Is it really that necessary? Yes! Practicing gratitude is even more important during the teen years, when kids naturally become more self-centered during adolescence. They worry whether or not they will pass the test, make the team, be included in that friend group, be chosen for that part, or get accepted into that college. When everything in your teen’s life seems monumental, it is easy for them to lose proper perspective and let their feelings determine their faith.
Here are 5 reasons we should help our teens practice gratitude:
- Gratitude turns our focus away from ourselves.
We live in a self-centered world. We come into the world focused on our own needs, and our social media culture has multiplied that tendency by a bazillion. Being intentional about gratitude requires that we take our eyes off ourselves and turn them to the Giver of all good gifts (James 1:17). Actively looking for things to be thankful for reminds our teens that they are not actually the center of the universe.
- Gratitude helps us focus on the positive instead of the negative.
The teen years feel a bit like a roller coaster with lots of ups and downs. Unfortunately, those negative thoughts and feelings have a way of not only lingering but also growing. Before you know it, they can wrap their dark tendrils around your teen’s heart and squeeze the life right out of them.
Where we direct our focus has a huge impact on our overall attitude. Paul encourages us not to be anxious, but to think on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable… excellent or praiseworthy.” (Philippians 4:8) Gratitude enables us to embrace a positive perspective on life.
- Gratitude teaches us to learn from difficult situations instead of complaining.
Teenagers are infamous for grumbling and complaining when life is difficult or doesn’t go their way. However, time has a way of bringing perspective. Circumstances that are painful in the moment can eventually lead to great self-discovery and a strengthened faith (see Genesis 50:19-21). If we teach our teens to look back and recognize where God was working in the midst of their difficult experiences, they are then better able to recognize those types of blessings and lessons in the moment. Choosing gratitude will help them embrace whatever the Lord desires to teach them through their circumstances. And that benefits everyone a lot more than just complaining.
- Gratitude grows a mature faith.
Being thankful requires recognizing the gifts we have received. Being the receiver of those gifts requires acknowledging that there is a Giver. Most of what we are grateful for we have not earned in any way. We simply receive it. When our teens focus on the many ways God has provided for them, they learn to trust in His future provision. They learn to trust His ways and His timing, even when His ways and timing don’t align with theirs (see Isaiah 55:8-9). Focusing on gratitude becomes an expression of maturing faith.
- Gratitude is contagious.
Have you ever been around someone who has a grateful spirit? It’s contagious, isn’t it? People who intentionally choose an attitude of gratitude have learned to not take the little things for granted. The more we are around someone like that, the more we begin to treasure and appreciate the little moments as well. And the less we take things for granted, the kinder we tend to be to those around us. Gratitude spreads to everyone around us (see 1 Thessalonians 3:12).
As a parent, I want to be the kind of person that others, including my teens, want to be around. I want my faith, joy, and gratitude to be contagious. And I want to help them learn to be that way, too, so they can have a greater impact for God’s Kingdom. How about you?
While your teen may have outgrown traditions like the Thankful Tree, it is more important than ever to continue helping them choose gratitude. You can prayerfully seize opportunities to help your teen be less self-centered, focus on the positive, learn from difficult situations, grow a mature faith, and live a life of gratitude that is contagious to those around them.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)