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 www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  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 www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

Gratitude in An Entitled World


Teens today want more … demand more … and expect more in their lives than ever before!  So how can we combat attitudes of entitlement in our kids?  Today on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston explains how to help your child develop a thankful heart!

Special Guest: Brenda Garrison

Finding Hope … When It Seems Hopeless

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)

I remember a particular father who brought his daughter into the residential program here at Heartlight.  His eyes filled with tears as he spoke to me about the struggles and the problems that his daughter was experiencing.  Frankly, it was one of the worst stories of a troubled teenager that I had heard in quite awhile.  My heart ached for this hurting father as he looked for a bit of encouragement.

Just tell me that there is hope in this,” he told me.

I remember distinctly looking him in the eye and saying with complete confidence, “There’s always hope.”  That didn’t come from some Pollyanna optimism I had for the future.  The certainty of hope that every parent can have is based on the character of our Heavenly Father who promises to finish what He starts.

They’re a lot older now, but I can remember the first kids I counseled when I started this ministry.  There were times when I thought, These kids are hopeless! There’s absolutely no way they can turn it around!  But these same kids are now healthy, happy adults with strong marriages and good families.  The time that their parents, the Heartlight team, and most importantly, God, invested into their lives brought about a wealth of blessings for their future.  Through example after example, I’ve learned that though the outlook might look bleak and hopeless, God always brings hope.

Embrace the Pain

Parenting is not pain-free.  There are many joys of raising children, but there are also a lot of heartaches.  When a teenager is spiraling out-of-control, it can wreak havoc and sorrow on marriage and family relationships.  In the midst of pain like that, all we want to do is get out from under that strain as soon as possible and find release.

But I’ve discovered that pain is a good reminder of God’s presence in our lives.  When the puzzle pieces of life are falling into place, we often forget to recognize the Lord’s hand of blessing behind it all.  But when things are falling apart, it’s easier to see God holding the broken elements of our life together.  Times of testing are opportunities to see how God can take any situation, work through it, and bring about restoration.  Usually, we have to come to the end of ourselves and our resources before we can notice and appreciate God’s intervention.

The story of God’s people illustrates this principle.  Freed from the slavery of Egypt, the Israelites went singing and dancing into the desert.  It wasn’t till they hit the barrier of the Red Sea and heard the murderous sounds of chariots behind them that they started to panic.  Hemmed in by all sides, and seeing no way out, the people of God cried out, “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:12).  They despaired and saw no hope in present circumstances.  God brought them to a place where their only option was to turn to Him and look towards the future.  It’s when circumstances looked the bleakest that God showed up and provided a way through the Red Sea.

God doesn’t make mistakes.  The child in your life was put there specifically by the Lord, not only for his or her benefit and growth, but for yours as well.  Those painful struggles we face with our kids can change us, refine us, and strengthen our faith.  So we should embrace the pain, knowing that God is going to use it for the future.

Embrace the Bigger Picture

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Hopelessness comes when we look at things we can see: our son’s addiction to alcohol or drugs, or a teen daughter’s pregnancy.  But faith is focusing on what we can’t see; the good and perfect plans God has for our children.  It’s looking with spiritual eyes at the big picture.  In the moment, these trials seem monumental and overwhelming.  Yet, with faith, we can see how God can use even the low points of child’s life for their good.

I had one student who, as a result of a party lifestyle and rebellion, got pregnant when she was sixteen.  Caught in her mistakes, she was forced to have a difficult conversation with her parents, and reevaluate her decisions.  With the support of her family, the young lady did the right thing, gave up her beautiful child for adoption, got serious counseling, and is now a growing and mature adult.  I asked her some years later her thoughts on that tough time in her life, and she said, “Mark, getting pregnant was the best thing that could have happened to me.  It was a wake-up call, and for the first time in my life I had to deal with my mistakes and learn responsibility.  And giving up that baby was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.  So now I want my next baby to be the result of a happy marriage.

I could tell even more stories about former students who have written me letters and e-mails to say that their DUI was the best thing that happened to them, or that running away from home changed their lives.  It wasn’t because these were good things at the time, but looking back, they gained a new perspective about the struggles they faced, and how it shaped their futures.  Those trials and troubles gave them a reason to find help, and served as a reminder of the consequences of their actions.  What seemed hopeless at the time, actually gave teens hope for the future.

We gain a sense of hope when we see the past, the present, and the future as whole.  We can see God’s mercy and blessings in the past experiences.  We can lean on God’s goodness in the present.  And we can rely on the good plans God has for us, and our children, for tomorrow.  Mom and Dad, if you are in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation with your teen, remember that the story is not over.  There is always hope.




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 www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  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 www.parentingtodaysteens.org.