For children, the holidays are the most magical time of the entire year. Young ones are enamored with the story of Santa Claus and his reindeer, excitedly watching their behavior to make sure they’re on the nice list. And of course, there’s the Elf on the Shelf tradition, which brings a sense of anticipation and wonder into the homes of each family who has one. Everywhere they look, kids are greeted with the Christmas magic that they so firmly believe in (Lights! Santa pictures! Cookie decorating! Class parties!).
For, teens, however, finding the Christmas magic can be a lot more difficult. Thanks to changing hormones, changing interests, and oft-fluctuating moods, teens can often give the “eye roll” to many family-centered holiday traditions and pay more attention to their cell phones. While young people desire close relationships with their family, they also strive to establish an identity separate from their family through friendships and school-related activities. However, studies show that a strong family culture is crucial in creating security and identity in teens (and in keeping them grounded!). Parents: As you gather with loved ones over this holiday season, it’s up to you to initiate powerful bonding opportunities that your teen can count on.
What makes a tradition powerful, you might ask? Well, that’s up to you! What sort of things do you and your teens enjoy? What is your cultural heritage? What foods do you like to eat? What’s important is that your traditions counter instability and alienation, making your teen feel connected to you and the rest of the family. Here are some pointers:
- Establish routines that your children can learn to rely on. “Mixing it up” is great most of the time, but in this situation, predictability is key. At the beginning of the holiday season, make it clear that you have certain days set aside for certain family activities.
- Involve your teens in the planning. Depending on the event or activity, let them choose who comes, help plan the meal, or prepare the food or dessert.
One of my favorite family traditions from childhood was our annual trip to the tree farm. Being one of five kids, there was no shortage of opinions when it came time to finally pick the tree. My parents helped mitigate the bickering—but still made sure all parties were involved—by switching off “girls’ years” and “boys’ years.” One year, dad and the boys got to choose the tree and the next year, it was up to mom and the girls. This made us all feel involved and special, but also gave us something to look forward to year after year.
- Remember how “anticlimactic” Christmas can seem. There’s so much build up and anticipation, but then in what seems like the blink of an eye, it’s all over. Use this reminder to focus on the experiences, not the things. This is the perfect time to build memories, not stockpiles of STUFF.
- Teens interpret high levels of control from parents as signifying that they’re “less than.” Be flexible with your teen, allowing them to communicate with you what traditions they see as important or especially significant to them.
- Never underestimate the power of game night. Some of my most favorite memories from childhood took place at my parents’ long farmhouse table over a board game with my siblings. Game nights were the source of endless laughter, inside jokes, petty fights, and memories that we still laugh about today. Some favorites were Apples to Apples, Scattergories, Balderdash, Risk, Stock Ticker, and Ticket to Ride.
No matter what your holiday traditions look like, may this season with your teens and children be filled with love, laughter, generosity, peace, and of course, good food. We hope this holiday season is one that you will all remember for decades to come.