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Adding “Thank You” to Your Teen’s Vocabulary

Thank You“Continue to live your lives in [Jesus], rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith… and overflowing with thankfulness.”  Colossians 2:6,7

Hanging on the wall of my office is one of my prized possessions.  It’s a plaque that I received back in 1975 during my first rookie days in youth ministry.  It was presented to me by one of the first groups of teens that I had counseled and supported.  The now yellowed and worn certificate simply says, “Thanks for caring.”

That plaque is a regular reminder that there is no such thing as too much gratitude.  But we seldom hear those encouraging words from our older kids, do we?  When was the last time you heard, “Hey, thanks Mom for helping me with this school project.  That meant a lot!”  Or, “Thanks so much for dinner, Dad.  It was delicious!”  We’re not fishing for insincere comments, but wouldn’t it be nice to hear “Thanks” once in a while?

It’s not impossible to train our kids to be grateful, but that does mean pushing back on an entitled generation.  Many teenagers today are growing up with the belief that the world owes them everything, from college to cars to jobs and a comfortable lifestyle.  No wonder kids aren’t developing a sense of gratitude!  But God’s Word tells us that our lives should be “overflowing with thankfulness.”  And as parents, we know that few things come handed to us on silver platters.  We can’t allow our children to grow up believing that they deserve all the good things of life.  Not just to hear a kind word occasionally, but for the health and maturity of our kids, we need to teach them to add “Thank you” to their vocabulary.

Gifts versus Obligation

Recently at the Heartlight campus, I was going about my daily errands, when one of the girls in our program stopped me.  “Hey, why haven’t you met with me this week?” she quizzed me.  “You need to meet with meet with me every week!

I said calmly, “Sweetie, I enjoy talking with you.  But I don’t have to meet with you every week.

Yes you do!” she shot back.

At this point, I realized I was talking with an entitled teen, so I gave her a principle that I have shared with many other kids and their parents.  “Honey, I owe you nothing, but I want to give you everything.”

It’s time to realize that our privileged kids may be creations of our own making.  I know with my own kids, I have crossed that dangerous line many times and given them things that I shouldn’t.  Though I thought I was loving my children, those extravagant gifts reinforced their perception that I was obligated to meet every one of their needs.  While I saw these good things as gifts, they saw them as rights.  This might sound harsh, but as parents, you do not owe your children anything!  Of course, if we love them, we will meet their needs of housing, clothes, food and basic necessities.  But you are not obligated to buy your teen a car, fund their college, or pay their phone bills.  By providing for every one of their needs and wants, we are actually robbing our kids of gratitude and the ability to take care of themselves.  Plus, why would a child ever leave the nest if every craving and desire has been met?

A bald eagle will intentionally make her nest more and more uncomfortable as time goes by to encourage her baby birds to fly the coop.  With our teens, we should be making their responsibilities a little tougher every year to foster independence and a sense of thankfulness for what they have and what they’ve accomplished.

Ease Versus Work

In these tough economic times, having a job and the means to support a family is a blessing.  Work is not a given; it’s a gift.  It’s an attitude that we should be instilling in our teens as they make their way out into the world.  Our society doesn’t owe us a career, a home, a car, a family.  These are things that we have to work for and earn.  That’s why developing a sense of gratitude starts with instilling a good work ethic in our teens.  Don’t shy away from assigning chores and responsibilities for your kids.  At the Heartlight campus I even make up work for my kids to accomplish.  Whether it’s raking pine needles, walking the horses, or cleaning up the rooms, I want to give my students the gift of work.  Using their hands and minds to achieve routine tasks provides them with a feeling of responsibility, independence and also community.  They get a feeling of contributing to the group and accomplishing something for themselves.  When I pay them for the chores they do, it reinforces the idea that work equals reward.

Mom and Dad, don’t feel that giving your teen work will hurt them or make you a bad parent.  It’s really the best gift you can give your kids, and one day, they will be grateful for it.

Demanding versus Modeling

I’ve mentioned the growing sense of entitlement in today’s teenagers, but I don’t exclude myself from the conversation.  Thankfulness is a characteristic that we all can grow in.  So instead of demanding gratitude from my family, I first work towards modeling it.  Let’s face it; parenting can be a thankless job.  No one is running up to give you a pat on the back every day.  But if you can show a thankful heart in your life, your kids will recognize it and eventually pick it up as well.

So stop complaining about your job.  Instead, let your family know how grateful you are to be working.  After dinner, thank your spouse for their work in the kitchen.  When your teen does a nice job cleaning out the garage, or washing the car, sincerely thank them for their hard work.  Keep your eyes open for opportunities to display gratitude in your life.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, now is the best time to start thinking about how to add “Thank you” to your teenager’s vocabulary.  By refraining from meeting every one of their needs, giving them meaningful work and modeling gratitude, you can make sure that your teen has a long list of things to be thankful for this holiday!



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.