As we find ourselves immersed in the holiday season, a very interesting set of issues arise for parents of teenagers. Teenagers are in a very strange phase of life transition. No longer wide-eyed children who revel in the fun of the season, they may not look forward to the holidays with joyous expectation. They are also not adults (although they often claim that privilege) and are not completely in charge of what happens in the holidays. This in-between phase can make tension.
8 Ideas to help parents and teens enjoy the holiday season
I have seen parents hold onto past traditions with great passion though frustrated by their teenager’s lack of enthusiasm. Typically, teenagers are trying to establish their independence. They want their own space and different roles from those they had as children.
Because of the press for independence, some interesting discussions, arguments, conflicts can ensue. In fact, this stage may cause hurt feelings within the family over what is a normal stage of growth and development.
Here are a couple of ideas that may help in these days of holiday transitions:
1) Remember that family traditions are important to teenagers. Families are making holiday memories that will last a lifetime. Though teens may not appear as interested as parents may wish, they still find that predictable events like the holidays are stabilizing to their lives.
2) It is a teen’s developmental job to become independent of their parents. They need the opportunity to have some input and take on some new roles within the family during this time. It is very helpful to give them a job within their strengths to contribute differently to the holiday celebrations.
3) Friends are playing a much larger role in their lives. Rather than oppose these relationships, invite their friends to join with your family in some holiday celebrations and activities. Some events may be “family only,” but there are many ways to include peers. It is also a great way to get to see who your teenagers are hanging out with.
4) Teenager years are times of hormonal and emotional swings. It can be quite difficult to know just where your teens are in these changes. Take time to observe your teenager before responding and allow that awareness to shape your listening and communication.
5) Listen well to your teenager. This is a time where teens need relationships more than ever. If you listen and listen and listen with the agenda of listening (that is, hearing beyond the words), you will learn much about what they are feeling and thinking.
6) Reflect on your family traditions with them. Look at family videos. Tell stories about family holidays. Laugh, reminisce, reflect and joke about some of the more fun moments. The teens will revel in the memories that have shaped their childhood.
7) Don’t forget the deeper meanings in your conversations. If holidays are only about gift exchanges or dinners, then we have lost the spiritual and deeper aspects of the season. Now is a great time to talk about faith, peace, hope and the deeper issues of God’s love for us all during the holidays. These conversations should be a part of every family holiday.
8) Finally, be patient as you go through these transitions. There is so much going on in the physical, social, emotional and relational development of a teenager—so much so that sometimes even they do not know why they are unbalanced in their perspective.
Sometimes just being observational and understanding can raise your awareness and prevent some of the tensions that could arise. Although it is frustrating that some of our traditions may be challenged or even changed, our teen is the one individual within our family who is going through a lot of changes and needs time to figure out life.
Keeping these ideas in mind should help your holidays be less stressful.
There is much more to say on each of these topics, but the basic ideas should help when celebrating with teenagers. During the holidays they want to give back, but sometimes they need some ideas from you as to how they can do that as an emerging adult.
In holidays we celebrate our families, and it is essential that we work diligently to include and encourage our teenagers to be a vital part of our family holiday events. In so doing, we will continue to build positive memories and a dynamic connection to their family.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network