by John Carleton, BYS Counselor

November is a natural time to focus on gratitude and service and the positive mental health benefits associated with them. Thanksgiving is around the corner and many families have traditions around expressing thankfulness at the Thanksgiving table. This is a lovely tradition! Can you imagine what it would be like as a daily practice? What if you took time every day to list the things for which you are grateful? Studies have shown that such daily practices lessen depressive symptoms and increase overall happiness. The point isn’t to ignore what’s hard, but to shine a spotlight on the good. The shift in mindset needed to make a gratitude list is what makes it beneficial for mental health.

Volunteering is another beneficial practice for mental health. Developmentally, teenagers are figuring out who they are independent of their parents. As they are growing into their adult selves, separate from their family systems, teens rely more on peers for cues as to how they are perceived. This can lead to worry about what others think of them. Service and gratitude practices can help to calm those anxieties. Not only because they typically receive positive feedback from those they are serving, but because they are building relationships with others in the community outside of their peer group.

The teen years are all about relationships and some youth struggle with loneliness and/or depression, often around relationships. Especially coming off of a year of pandemic lock-downs and quarantines, feelings of isolation are common. Volunteering can combat those feelings by giving them something concrete to do – an excuse to get out of the house and be with others (safely). Many teens are also struggling with motivation to do schoolwork or chores. Volunteering can foster a greater sense of meaning and purpose as well as a greater sense of achievement, pride, and motivation. Seeing the positive impact they have on others shows youth that they have power, that what they do matters, that they are important to others.

BYS offers service opportunities for youths, whether through the Service Club, Peer Tutoring, or the SilverTech Squad. And to reinforce the power of gratitude, the Service Club is currently running a “Kudos Kards” campaign, where students can acknowledge the good they see others doing. Kudos to them!