Raising young people in today’s environment, it’s easy to slip into negative thinking. Take a moment to reflect on the backdrop of their daily lives. Social media, 24-hour stream of news, bullying both in the playground and online at home, alarmingly high rates of self-harm and suicide. It’s easy to defend highlighting the negative to our children.
But even though these factors cause a sense of collective pessimism there are ways to overcome them and fight back. Optimism. Isn’t this something innate within us? A born pessimist will always see the glass half empty? In his best-selling book, The Optimistic Child, Martin Seligman disagrees. Optimism is not only a predisposition but a learned skill. So how do we teach it? How can we safeguard our kids in a negative world and instil an authentic sense of positivity?
7 ways to raise a Positive Teen
- Teach gratitude. If they are reflecting on what’s good and right in their lives, it’s easier to stem the flow of negative thoughts. Train their brain for an attitude of gratitude.
- Change their Explanatory Style*. Seligman speaks of this being one of the primary ways we can help our kids become more optimistic.
- Find the silver lining. Most ‘bad’ situations can be turned around, even if it’s just a lesson for next time.
- Let them fail. Give them a sense of mastery over their efforts by allowing them to try and try again. It will improve their sense of true self -esteem which is fundamental to optimism.
- Put things in perspective. Not only by highlighting their own experience compared to that of a much worse one but also with news feeds. Educate them to know that ‘bad news’ sells and there are still plenty of good people making the world a great place. Giving this perspective diminishes fear and restores hope.
- Switch off. Claim back your family time by having a device-free day once per week. Prioritising family time sends the clear message that family time is the most important thing, creating a sense of safety and belonging, a strong antidote to pessimism.
- Grow through what you go through. Adopt and teach a growth mindset. Help them reframe their setbacks as valuable learning opportunities. Embrace the challenge and learn to love mistakes.
*Explanatory style is the way someone explains a difficult event to themselves. The three main styles are:
- Permanent vs Temporary. Events either change over time or remain the same
- Pervasive vs Specific. Events are either universal or specific to a time and place
- Personal vs Impersonal. Events are caused by something within or outside of oneself.
Someone with an optimistic explanatory style would view a setback as temporary, specific and impersonal. Conversely, a pessimist would see it as permanent, pervasive and personal. By way of example, a child who fails a maths test at school may believe that ‘I’ll never be good at maths’. The optimistic child, on the other hand, will say ‘I failed because I didn’t study enough’. The latter self-talk allows room for improvement and progress.