Co-authored by Ellen Rogin, CPA, CFP, author of Great with Money: 6 Steps to Lifetime Success and Prosperity.
With Thanksgiving upon us, we join with friends and family to share our gratitude for all that's good in our lives. As we include our teens in these festivities, they grow in the traditions of appreciation and develop an "attitude of gratitude." To better understand gratitude, they need to experience both giving and receiving.
When you teach your kids to give and receive well, you teach them to live well. Some think that giving is an innate trait possessed by certain naturally benevolent personalities. But giving is a choice, and while many teens have done lots of receiving, giving is often less familiar to them. Parents need to teach them how to give by modeling it themselves.
Every individual is unique and loaded with strengths. Each one adds so much value to the world. The big question is whether your teen is aware of the strengths he has to offer. It's so important for him or her to begin grasping what it is they offer and finding those who want or need it.
Once he learns to recognize his unique strengths, he has the special ability to make a difference in the lives of those who need what he has to offer. Providing it, as well as seeing what it means to his recipients, adds great value to his life.
This is where your teen learns about his place in this world, his value to the people around him, and the difference his presence makes to them. Helping him to think outside himself helps him see purpose in life that's bigger than himself, as well as showing him where he belongs ... and fits.
If kids aren't shown how to give, and if they've only been receiving from all your giving, they miss the loftier and more fulfilling aspects of living that come from sacrifice and effort.
We're a self-absorbed society. We have to row against the current to change that self-absorption into giving and contributing. For your teen, in his chaotic world of high stress, intense schooling, and social hostility, it's so critical to help him take attention off himself so he can have less anxiety and stress.
As his parent, you can model how to do this by giving to others ... showing him how to do something that is outside of self.
Stephen Post and Jill Neimark, in their book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, mention a study by Paul Wink that powerfully demonstrates "if you start giving young, you protect your mental and physical well-being for a lifetime." They also say, "giving reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk," adding, "teens who actively volunteer do better in life: they have higher grades in school, use drugs and alcohol less often, have lower pregnancy rates and are likely to continue volunteering for the rest of their lives."
What's more, adults who live a lifestyle of generosity and regular service have fewer health problems. Those who volunteer for two or more organizations after midlife have 44% lower likelihood of fatal disease.
So engaging your teen in opportunities of contributing to someone outside yourselves is good for your health and well-being, and his, as well.
I have a client whose parents made it a point to volunteer doing handyman work. Every few weeks they get called, go to an individual's home who may be struggling financially. These parents take the whole family to fix the problems this person has in their home.
They participate as a family to teach the kids the importance of taking attention off themselves and and focusing it on something or someone else who needs what they offer. I've noticed these family members begin to have a different orientation. They're more positive, more confident, and in directing their attention off themselves and onto others their anxiety decreases as well as other depressive symptoms.
When a person stays stuck within himself he runs patterns in his mind that reinforce anxiety... with thinking patterns that attach more and more meaning to anxious feelings. To reverse the anxiety, reverse the direction of your attention.
Another example is a teen girl who was being bullied, mostly verbally. It was terribly damaging to her self-esteem, confidence, and the way she functioned on a daily basis. Among a host of hurtful experiences was her bus ride. She would get on the bus and some kid would say "If you want to be 'Martha's' friend raise your hand." Nobody would raise their hand. This kind of behavior was directed at her inside of school and out.
Instead of allowing her hurt and anger to destroy her life, she sat down with her mom and dad and discussed how she would work through this. What was decided was that she would put her attention elsewhere. She would create an anti-bully campaign and club. Not only did the abusive behavior toward her stop, but she was now giving to others what she had to offer by telling the story of her struggle and providing support to others with similar pain.
In sitting down with her parents and looking at the situation from a broader perspective, she realized that putting her attention on others would not only benefit her but could have a big impact outside of her, too.
She learned something important about herself, what she had to offer, and her place in this world. And there's no question that this was a first step that would influence her adult development and purpose for many years to come.
So, by living a life of generosity, you model a healthier more meaningful life for your children. Your life will be longer, healthier, and more enjoyable, and your children will learn to build healthier happier lives, too.