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Optimism (or lack there of) and Your Teenager

Are you a half glass full (optimistic) or a half glass empty (pessimistic) kind of person?  How about your child/ teen?  Not surprisingly, a parent’s level of optimism is very contagious as to how your child or teen may think and feel about themselves, school, and their future.  Studies have shown that people who are optimistic and have a positive outlook on things have a stronger immune system and lead longer lives.  The good news is, optimism is a skill that can be developed, hence today’s newsletter edition focuses on tips to help develop or strengthen this kind of positive thinking in yourself and your child(ren).



In Martin E. P. Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, he outlines an ABC model for looking at things more optimistically, and I’ll outline some of the basics here.  (as a sidenote, this is a book I would recommend, especially if you’re interested in more fully working with optimism for yourself or with your teen)

A = Adversity

An adversity can be almost anything – a parking ticket, a friend who didn’t text you back, a bad grade on a test, someone criticizing you

B = Beliefs

Beliefs are how you interpret the adversity.  Beliefs will contribute to whether we handle a situation in an optimistic or a pessimistic manner.

C = Consequences

Consequences are your feelings and what actions you take or don’t take based on your beliefs about the adversity.  Again… see the connection, how this all builds on itself?

D = Disputation

Disputing is the intervention point for working with your pessimism.  Disputing asks questions such as, “What’s my evidence?”, “What are the alternative explanations?”, and “Even if my [pessimistic] belief is correct, What are the implications?”

E = Energization

Energization seems to be a rephrasing of the originally pessimistic thought.  For example, one might say, “Even though I got a D on my math test (adversity), it’s not like I won’t get in to college (implications), and so I’ll ask my teacher for some extra help so I can do better on the next test (consequences/ action)”


I encourage you to practice the ABC model in your own life to become more aware of the kind of connections you automatically make, find spaces for improvement, and then you can introduce, teach, and practice the ABC model with your child/ teen/ family.  The point you want to get across is that how your child feels doesn’t just come out of nowhere – that the Beliefs about Adversities have real life Consequences… and that, with practice, those negative beliefs can be unlearned.



You can role model optimistic viewpoints and interpretations, and also by admitting your own mistakes or situations you wish you handled more gracefully.

When you teen is having a difficult time in relation to an adversity/stressor, validate their feelings while at the same time coaching them on some alternative explanations or ways to look at the situation.  If it is for something pretty significant, you might want to hold off on the ‘optimistic pep talk’ for awhile though…

Offer balanced perspectives to their more pessimistic statements from your teen.

It might be helpful and more playful if you come up with a family code word or code phrase (such as, “Is somebody feeling like a Debbie downer?!”) to communicate when people are being more cynical/pessimistic, as this can help put things in check and ultimately improve the self-monitoring.

Help your teen become involved in things they can excel at, as this will have a positive effect on their self-esteem and overall outlook.  A lot of focus is place on academics (which are important, of course) but especially for kids who don’t naturally excel in this area, it’s crucial to create an environment where they can feel good about themselves in other ways.

Be sure to give your teen lots of praise and encouragement, in general and in relation toward their efforts/ the family efforts towards becoming more optimistic.