Teaching the Blessing of Gratitude
Bill has been taking a class on the Science of Happiness. This past week covered the topic of gratitude. A recent study by Giacomo Bono, California State University, Dominguez Hills, and Jeffrey Froh, Hofstra University, found that, “Gratitude played an important role in many areas of positive mental health of the teens in our study. Increases in gratitude over a four-year period were significantly related to improvements in life satisfaction, happiness, positive attitudes and hope.”
Teens with the most gratitude by the end of the study period had a higher sense of meaning and were more satisfied with their lives.
What is gratitude?
An 11-year-old in one of the studies conducted by Bono and Froh described gratitude this way: “Being thankful isn’t just saying thanks. It’s a divine feeling that isn’t hideable. When you truly are thankful you will do something in return because you owe it to the person and society.”
We don’t talk much about gratitude. We can easily take things for granted and start to assume that we’re responsible for all the goodness that happens in our life. But our success is built upon the contributions, assistance and guidance of others. According to Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude (University of California, Davis), gratitude allows us to celebrate the present, blocks toxic, negative emotions like envy, resentment, and regret, makes us more stress-resistant, and produces a higher sense of self-worth.
As Emmons has said, “In gratitude, you should not focus on how inherently good you are, but rather on the inherently good things that others have done on your behalf.”
What is a grateful teen?
Grateful teens are thankful for their lives and respond positively to the good people and things they encounter. According to Bono and Froh, “Gratitude may be strongly linked with life-skills such as cooperation, purpose, creativity and persistence and, as such, gratitude is a vital resource that parents, teachers and others who work with young people should help youth build up as they grow up.”
Teens who are grateful feel some indebtedness, are aware of the contributions of others, experience compassion, exhibit optimism and a sense of worth, and possess a certain enthusiasm and a joy of life.
How do you foster gratitude in your teens?
Have your teen write down on a weekly basis what she is thankful for. This focuses the mind on blessings and gets her in the habit of appreciating the good things that happen in her life.
Have your teen write a letter of gratitude to someone he hasn’t adequately thanked and then have him read it to that person. It becomes a blessing to your teen and to the recipient.
As we head quickly into Thanksgiving, let us be thankful for gratitude and its many benefits to social interactions and our own personal health. As Robert Emmons has said, “I’ve concluded that gratitude is one of the few attitudes that can measurably change people’s lives.”
Finding the Right Role Models for Teens
Where Have All The Role Models Gone?
Do you remember when you could find well-known adults you’d be glad to introduce as a good role model to your teen? It seems like there are very few left. So many pop stars, politicians, business leaders, and sports figures are all failing the test of being effective role models. Who would have thought that Jared Fogle, former spokesman for Subway, would be hauled off and charged with child exploitation?
Individuals in the public eye with influence over our youth commonly seem to be doing the wrong thing in the wrong place for the wrong reason.
Who does your teen idolize? Who does s/he look up to? Respect? Imitate?
The list of fallen popular figures is long. People who our teens find compelling are increasingly unreliable role models. So many have turned out to be poor sources of inspiration or behavior. Many of those figures our teens follow, envy, and emulate focus on themselves, possess questionable morality, and maintain a sense of entitlement that can derail your teen’s sense of self and ability to contribute in a positive way.
Rolling the model
How do we swing our teen’s fascination with fluff to influences can trust? Where are those models?
We can encourage our kids to expand their interests. We can talk about why actors, singers, and other entertainers appeal to us. We can have a discussion about why they are so popular while putting into context what makes a good role model.
There is a difference between being popular and being a good person to pattern our lives after. We can teach that there are consequences to bad behavior–some are permanent. And, perhaps most of all, we can teach our children by example to have high standards, think for themselves, and make discerning judgments regardless of the persuasion of an individual’s personality.
Characteristics of a good role model
We need to emphasize to our children the importance of finding and adopting positive role models, cultivating self-confidence, and mirroring examples of the qualities that make for a successful life. Good role models can emerge from every walk of life, every background. They are successful individuals who have firm character and strong values.
A couple of years ago, teens responded to a question from The New York Times about role models in their lives. Answers included sports figures, the head of a zoological park, an 11th grade English teacher, and family members. The one thing that everyone mentioned was the positive impact made by someone who overcame obstacles, demonstrated strength in the face of challenges, and inspired others to be better people.
Do Schools Need to have Classes in Civility?
School days are here again. When schoolteachers ask for help today, many are really wanting to know how mentally and emotionally to survive the day. In some cases, knowing the subject matter is secondary to managing crowd control. A friend of ours works across the street from a “last stop” high school for kids who have been booted out of their original school. It is not uncommon, she says, to see police cars pull up en masse and escort students outside and into their patrol cars. Area residents are so accustomed to the wailing sirens, they hardly pay any attention. It is still jarring, however, to those people who work in the inner city and then go home to a more serene environment.
This particular school leans toward the extreme but many schools and teachers deal with kids who are out of control. We’re not sure that any school in the nation will ever require students to take a course in civility. Not civics. Civility. But we think it would be a good idea. We are not a civil society these days. We have replaced conversation with confrontation. In many cases, violence is the first resort. And it’s not a question of teaching morals. It goes more deeply than that. It’s a matter of values.
Our values define us
A value is an intangible ideal that we personify by the way we live and conduct ourselves in society. If we hold sacred the value that every human being deserves respect, then we wouldn’t think of hurting another person by our words or actions. Respect for all of human life is a value, one that serves as a cornerstone for morality. We respect others’ property as if it were our own. We realize how much money and/or effort it took for us to acquire those things that we hold dear; therefore, we would not steal from someone else. Respecting what others have invested in their own lives—tangible and intangible—is a value.
Civility ought to be part of the curriculum in public, private and home schools. (How about a section in Driver’s Ed?) So much of what we see and hear in the news and through entertainment venues reflects very little regard for human life and dignity. A popular bumper sticker reads: “You keep honking … I’ll keep reloading.” These days the way to solve disputes or even minor disagreements is to use abusive language, throw a punch, or all too often, pull a trigger.
Kindness—what a concept!
Dad, teach your son that there is nothing manly about being a brute. Being loud and pushy and aggressive doesn’t show strength. It shows insecurity and weakness. Dad, teach your daughter that the qualities that exemplify a lady are those that will last a lifetime and carry over to others. Tell your kids to look for role models who receive humanitarian awards, study abroad, read books to children and the elderly—who treat other people with respect and kindness.
We need an app for civility.
Speak Your Spouse’s Language
We have been reading Love Talk by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. It is a practical guide that teaches couples how to improve their communication through down-to-earth writing, clear examples, and exercises in separate partner workbooks. The book and workbooks lead couples through the process of discovering themselves and understanding each other. The authors note, “Whether a relationship sinks or swims depends on how well partners send and receive messages, how well they use their conversations to understand and be understood.”
The importance of good communication
Understanding and being understood is key to a successful relationship. Effective communication is essential in that process. But it is surprising how many couples do not do it well. By introducing us to personal fear factors, the importance of what you say to yourself, the value of what you don’t say, and the empathy you need to feel for each other, the authors lead readers through exercises that clarify communication styles and bring couples to easier, closer, and more harmonious conversation.
It got us to thinking. Good communication is important to effective parenting. If you are not communicating well with your spouse, you can become agitated, feeling unsupported, devalued, dismissed. The common problem of poor communication can place you at odds with each other, hamper understanding, impede a unified vision and get in the way of your efforts to be good parents. If you’re not communicating well, you’re setting a bad model for your children.
When communication is poor, you are not clear on what the other parent feels, you may not be agreeing on issues of importance, and you run the risk of not being together in your approach. This leads to a “divide-and-conquer” mentality on the part of your teen. He’s looking for the best deal from one of you. She’s playing one against the other. They are taking advantage of the dysfunction.
Finding the right connection
So how do you create a strong connection with your spouse and establish good communication? It really comes from an interdependent relationship – two independent people sharing thoughts, perspectives, love and respect.
Wedding vows typically state, “And now, two become one.” Well, two don’t really become one. They become a united “two.” As Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has said, interdependence comes from two independent people who focus on solid values and principles.
Good communication is essential. It evolves from talking with and listening to each other, understanding and giving credence to how your partner sees things, and working together to achieve the best result.
Preserving a high quality marriage is hard work. But it is so important to the successful development of children. Your ability to serve as a good parental role model, to make good decisions about your children, and to create the kind of relationship you want and need to have begins with a strong partnership with your spouse. And that depends on effective communication.
The Four Parenting Styles
Is there such a thing as a “bad seed”? Or is there innate innocence that gets corrupted by home environment and peer pressure? We’ve recently seen many examples of teen trouble that have left us digging for answers.
Nature or Nurture
Dr. Ellen Slicker, professor of Professional Counseling at Middle Tennessee State University and private-practice psychologist, says “children are born with a particular temperament so they have a predisposition to be easy-going, shy, difficult, or challenging.” Then you add parents and the home environment to the mix. Slicker says we tend to parent as we have been parented. If our parents were not particularly responsible and caring, we will tend to reflect those characteristics. It is this mixture of nature and nurture that has a great deal to do with how our children develop.
Ingredients for interaction
Slicker cites her own research, first validated by Diana Baumrind, delineating the four parenting styles: authoritative; authoritarian; indulgent; and neglectful. “These four parenting styles are determined by looking at the amounts of ‘responsiveness’ (involvement, warmth, nurturance) and ‘demandingness’ (behavioral control, limit setting, monitoring) that appear and are predominant in the way parents interact with their children.”
Monitoring (not controlling) is vital
Slicker believes that the type of parenting that every child should receive is authoritative. “These can be considered responsible parents who are warm and reasonable and who consistently monitor their children and set limits on their behaviors.” The professor cites Dr. Gerald Patterson of the Oregon Social Learning Center who has found that parental monitoring is the single best deterrent for delinquency.
Authoritarian parents, on the other hand, are demanding but lack warmth. “This type of parenting often causes resentment and anger in children and can produce both bullies and victims.”
Neglectful parents “demonstrate neither responsiveness nor demandingness. These kids, having no parental limits, make up their own.”
Indulgent parents love their kids to death but are short on limits and discipline. “Their kids are likely to run the family.” Slicker says the parents she most often sees in her practice are indulgent ones trying to take back control of their family.
What kind of parent are you?
Consider what style of parenting you use. Are you authoritarian? Indulgent? Is it based on how you were raised? Have you modified the approach your father took? Are there changes you can make to become more successful?
As professor Slicker notes, “Children would be better adjusted as individuals in the world if they came from a strong family unit where parents take their roles seriously. These parents monitor their children and apply logical consequences for inappropriate behavior consistently and unapologetically. Expectations are clear and parents are firm but kind. Children crave limits to help them feel secure and loved.”
Raising successful, well-adjusted children is an important responsibility requiring forethought, capability, and follow-through. Perhaps we need a license for parenting as we do for driving, hunting, and fishing.