Teaching Adolescents Gratitude: Fake It Till You Make It


teenager smiling at lady

Let’s face it; gratitude is not something that a typical adolescent is known for. With the changes in their bodies and in their lives, as well as the decisions they are facing, it really should not be a surprise that adolescents spend most of their time thinking about themselves. This becomes even more true for those who abuse substances. The concept of gratitude may not even be in their vocabulary, let alone their lifestyle. Acknowledging or expressing gratitude may come naturally to some, but for most people, it is a learned skill.

How do you take someone who thinks primarily of themself and get them to look outside themselves and be grateful for the people and blessings in their life? The answer is not always quick or easy. However, gratitude is a healing tool that has many benefits both now and throughout life. For adolescents who are in active substance abuse and/or have mental health diagnoses, they may have to “fake it till they make it.”

Why Gratitude Helps in the Healing Process

While the word gratitude represents different things to different people, a generalized concept of gratitude would be appreciating what is valuable and meaningful to the individual. What you are grateful for and what your child is grateful for will likely be very different, but the result is the same: by recalling, acknowledging, or expressing gratitude, positive feelings are generated, which in turn help to improve mood and heal emotionally and physically.

Behaviors associated with substance abuse and mental health diagnoses often are the result of negative thinking, experiences, and self-image. Gratitude can help to create positive thoughts and feelings, reframing or replacing the negative thoughts and experiences to help heal and create new behaviors and find greater satisfaction in life. Being grateful can also help to improve self-image when your adolescent actively seeks to find the positive things in themself and in their life.

Benefits of Teaching Adolescents Gratitude

Parents may embrace the concept of a grateful teen for their own honor and satisfaction, but for the adolescent, developing grateful habits also increases their own self-image and life satisfaction. In addition to the healing benefits for adolescents who have abused substances or had mental health diagnoses, seeing their cup half full not only gives them a more positive outlook on life but also increases their ability to enjoy their life, from the mundane daily tasks to the bigger events and milestones.

Making Gratitude a Daily Habit

The saying “You are what you think” has merit. By putting gratitude into action on a daily or regular basis, your adolescent can develop a true sense of gratefulness. Some of the ways to form grateful habits include:

  • Say thank you – make an effort to simply say thank you to parents, friends, teachers, and others when something is given to or done for them
  • Keep a gratitude journal – write at least five times per week about at least one thing per day to be grateful for
  • Count your blessings – instead of counting sheep, at the end of the day, count all of the blessings received that day
  • Give genuine compliments to others – the act of noticing something specific that someone else has done creates positive feelings for both parties
  • Write thank-you notes – particularly after receiving gifts or help from others, take the time to put gratitude in writing

Finding the Silver Linings

Adolescents who have experienced trauma, loss, substance abuse, or mental health diagnoses may have a lot of negative experiences and memories that contribute to negative thinking. Practicing gratitude allows them to see the silver lining even within those past experiences. They can learn to look back at what they learned, how far they’ve come, or how they have taken control of their lives to avoid those negative experiences in the future.

Finding the silver linings in their experiences allows them to reframe negative experiences and appreciate what they have, how they have changed, and most importantly, who they are now because of their past. This, in turn, creates neutral or positive feelings surrounding these events or memories, which helps adolescents to heal and move forward.

Why Faking It Leads to a Grateful Mentality

For someone who has not previously acknowledged, expressed, or recalled gratitude, there is not a magic wand that instantaneously turns their hearts and minds into those of a truly grateful human being. Being grateful is something that happens by acting upon the concept first. The intent may not be completely there in the beginning, but as your adolescent practices gratitude on a regular basis, eventually, they can become convinced by their words and actions and develop a truly grateful mentality.
 The concept of gratitude may not come naturally for many adolescents, but learning to acknowledge and express gratitude can help to heal and increase your child’s life satisfaction. By attempting to express gratitude daily, your adolescent can develop a true sense of gratitude throughout their life. Helping adolescents heal from substance abuse and mental health diagnoses is our passion at Sustain Recovery. We understand that your child’s substance abuse is not the problem but rather their solution to their own pain and problems. We offer extended residential care for those who need more than the standard length of care, and we help your adolescent to reintegrate into their community and family during the treatment process. Our goal is to help the families and adolescents in active substance abuse to heal and connect them with long-term solutions for their recovery. Call us at (949) 407-9052 to determine if our Irvine, California, program is suitable for your family.