As the holidays approach this is usually the one time of the year where we tend to be more reflective of our lives and the events of the past year, and when we tend to hear the words : “Thankful” and “Gratitude” more often. So how do we demonstrate this and foster this in our home, especially when we are raising adolescents?
As parents, we have all thought at least once that our teen is acting “entitled” and “doesn't appreciate a thing we have done for them”. Believe me, I’ve been there many times. It is important to note that much of the “lack of community” mindset and “it’s all about me” attitude is very much on mark with their development. This does not mean that we enable behaviors we find disrespectful, but choosing your battles and the way your teen demonstrates gratitude may be warranted. Developmentally your teen is currently utilizing a great portion of their amygdala rather than their prefrontal cortex which means they are relying on their emotions to try to understand emotions. This is quite the opposite of how adults process emotion and therein lies a lot of the confusion we face when trying to understand our teens and their behaviors. But don’t fret, there is hope.
Research has shown that having gratitude is directly tied to one's level of happiness and finding something to be thankful for immediately diminishes feelings of negativity and frustration. Let's look at the ways that gratitude can actually alter your brain chemistry in a good way. According to an article published in PositivePyscholigy.com, “When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside. By consciously practicing gratitude everyday, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves. Gratitude also helps to release toxic emotions. The limbic system is the part of the brain that is responsible for all emotional experiences. It consists of the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate gyrus. Studies have shown that hippocampus and amygdala, the two main sites regulating emotions, memory, and bodily functioning, get activated with feelings of gratitude.”
As parents we can lead by example and ask ourselves how we are modeling gratitude in our own lives and in our families. One simple act such as thanking your teen for helping around the house or helping out a younger sibling goes a long way with your teen. Too often teens think parents don’t appreciate anything they do and only criticize. This pandemic has placed an extra strain on many people’s lives. If your family has been fortunate enough to not have experienced COVID related financial struggles or sickness allow this to be a topic of gratitude in your home and talk to your teen about ways your family can help and support others going through challenging times.
Teens are striving for autonomy right now so perhaps allowing them to choose their own way of helping others or having them choose the organization they would like to volunteer for will result in greater outcomes and have more of a lasting impact.