Many teenagers are mega Debbie Downers who think the world is against them and everything is terrible. Ask them to put away their shoes and we apparently ‘hate them’. Tell them to unload the dishwasher and ‘life sucks’.

You may feel like you’re the only parent dealing with this negative attitude but you’re not. In fact, you’re far from alone.

We consulted with Dan Hardie at MyStrengths about this ungrained negativity bias that teens tend to have.

Negative teen vibes

According to Dan,

Many teenagers have an ingrained negativity bias where their brain defaults to pessimism and negativity. 

They’ll remember one criticism but forget the ten compliments that came before it. They’ll imagine the worst-case scenario instead of hoping for the best, and they’ll naturally dwell on unpleasant or traumatic events rather than focusing on the best ones.”

nature deficit disorder in teens
Source: Bigstock

The good news for parents is that there are certain tools we can use to help turn this negativity bias around.

In my experience, it can be as simple as asking three questions on a regular basis,” Dan tells Mum Central.

Three questions to help your teen transform their negativity bias

  1. What are three things you’re grateful for today?
  2. What are two things you got right?
  3. What’s one good memory?’

Of course, these questions aren’t anything new or ground-breaking. But when asked to your teen regularly, you’ll start to realise that they hold the key to breaking the cycle of negative thinking that teens are so prone to falling into.”

You may be surprised at how the power of positive thinking and gratitude can change your mindset. In fact, as Dan explains,

These questions are designed to change a teenager’s brain as they are forced to notice what’s going right, including the things that are good about themselves, the things that have worked well today, the things that they’re enjoying, and a better insight into the fact that they’ve actually got many positive things going on in their lives.”

Let’s take each question one by one

What are three things you’re grateful for today?

Expect a wide range of silly, materialistic, school-related, or gaming-related answers, but also some amazing responses. It may take some time to actually see these decent responses but keep asking these questions daily and it will come.

One time, a 12-year-old sat with me and said: “I’m grateful that I actually get to go to school because we had a boy come to our school who is from Iraq, and he couldn’t go to school because of the war there. I can’t imagine that.” It was such a great example of keeping things in perspective.

Cultivating gratitude is a very important tool for overall mental health, and is especially important for breaking down an ingrained negativity bias. Gratitude journals are another great idea for teens to take this practice one step further, especially for those who struggle to feel a sense of appreciation for the people and things in their lives.”

What are two things you got right?

Again, the answers will vary greatly here. This could be something simple like doing well on a test or it could be something a little more in-depth, such as responding calmly to an annoying teacher instead of lashing out.

What’s one good memory?

This could be anything from getting a new pair of shoes to doing well in a swimming lesson. It might be ‘I did my first finger-roll layup in basketball today’, or ‘I got top 10 in a test for the first time’, ‘we went swimming after school’, or even something as simple as ‘I saw the moonrise’.

Asking your teen to recall one positive from their day is a gentle reminder that even on a bad day, there’s still usually a positive part.

By asking these questions on a regular basis, you’ll begin to cultivate a growth mindset in your teen while simultaneously opening up lines of positive conversation. It’s a great way to talk and hear about what’s happening in your teen’s day, without having to resort to the dreaded ‘how was your day?’ question.

As time goes on, you’ll likely start to hear more and more about their day and lives. By creating a safe, welcoming space for sharing, your teen will feel even more comfortable about sharing their inner and outer lives with you. As anyone with teens knows, that’s often easier said than done.” 

So go on, give the three questions a try today. It won’t happen overnight, but, in time, you may see a positive difference in your teen. Fingers crossed at least!

For more information please check out www.raisingresiliencecourse.com.au. Dan Hardie is the founder of MyStrengths and a teen therapist. He created the online Raising Resilience Course as a way for families with teens to address the big issues and find peace.

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