As the parents of two adolescent boys, my husband, Gordon, and I generally alternate between pride and dismay at their behavior. Mostly we get to see the good stuff, I'm glad to say. But lately the scales have begun to tip toward disappointment in one area. Will, 13, and Griffin, 11, seem to appreciate the big things we give them (the new bike, the iPod, the Hawaii vacation). But their day-to-day comments have started sounding increasingly demanding and -- I hate to say it -- entitled:
"Mom, I need help with my homework -- NOW."
"Ewww, that looks disgusting. I'm not eating it."
"I'm not going to visit Gramma Dee. You can't make me."
I don't expect my sons to be selfless saints, but I'd like them to understand how fortunate they are and to recognize the contributions that other people (including Gordon and me) make to their lives. We already say grace, albeit speedily, before meals. But are there other ways we can teach our kids to be more grateful?
Yes, says Jeffrey Froh, PsyD, an assistant professor of psychology at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. His research shows there are plenty of good reasons to try. He recently asked one group of middle school students to list up to five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks, while a second group recorded daily hassles and a third only completed a survey. "The gratitude group experienced a jump in optimism and overall well-being," reports Froh. "Furthermore, they were more satisfied with school even three weeks later." Likewise, a Harris Interactive survey of more than 1,200 kids between the ages of 8 and 18 found that those who were grateful for what they had were also more generous, even if they were fairly materialistic.
Inspired by these findings, Gordon and I decided to try a gratitude intervention of our own. Here's what we did, and what happened.
How do you teach respect?