So, your teen has decided to ditch the family and spend time with so-and-so. Really? No more chestnuts roasting on the open fire? No more cozy family traditions? Did you pitch a fit and tell your teen if he doesn’t spend time with the family this holiday season you’re cutting him out of the will?
When our kids were young, holidays were easy. The anticipation of rich chocolate desserts and time off from school to go sledding was all it took to keep them grounded. Once adolescence strikes, they suddenly get a severe case of ants in their pants. If there is a boyfriend or girlfriend in the picture, the inclination to spend the holidays somewhere else is probably more intense. One friend regaled me with a tale about a ruined holiday. When her family headed out-of-town to Grandma’s, her teenage daughter remained miserable for the entire 10 days, and then some.
Is this a case when parents should abide by the adage of picking your battles? Or should parents insist their teens spend the holidays with family?
Despite her preoccupation with friends and crushes, holiday traditions and family rituals are more important to your teen than you might think. You’ll realize this when your teen announces that she can’t find the ornament from Great Uncle Jack on the tree, or she notices that Grandma’s sweet potato pie is not on the Thanksgiving table.
“The teenage years are a time when children are struggling to differentiate themselves from their family. They are also wishing to strike out on their own and test boundaries. At this age, kids are highly influenced by their peers, but studies tell us that they still look up to their parents, and wish to please,” explains Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical assistant professor at Brown University’s Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and author of “The Secrets of Happy Families: Eight Keys to Building a Lifetime of Connection and Contentment” (Jossey-Bass, 2009).
It might help to ask for your teen’s assistance with the holiday planning. Remember, your teen probably has some creative talents you can utilize. Give him things he can be responsible for, such as creating the family newsletter or choosing items for the holiday menu. This gives your teen an opportunity to make a contribution. If he feels like he is an integral part of the holiday experience, instead of a mere spectator, he might buy into your need to have him around.
However, despite your best intentions and efforts, your teen might still want to spend time elsewhere. Dr. Haltzman says, “While it’s important to inject routine and tradition into your family life, it’s also important to know that some traditions can change slightly, and it won’t kill anyone. Children, including teens, should be with their families whenever possible, but there should also be room for compromise. Perhaps your child can go to a friend’s house before or after a holiday dinner, or perhaps you can change the time you open presents so that he or she can still go to work at the restaurant up the street.”
Sometimes the idea of “family coming first” is foreign to teens because they tend to be egocentric. Consider the age of your child, her relationship with this friend or friends, and her attitude toward the family. It doesn’t have to be an “either or” situation if you don’t want it to be. Discuss a compromise with your teen that will work for both of you. If there is a religious service or annual family tradition that can’t be missed, explore the idea of inviting the friend, or allowing your teen time with him or her afterward.
Do your best to avoid a nasty battle with your teen, and you’ll find you can keep the “happy” in the “holidays.”
Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer, columnist and author of, “Lions And Tigers And Teens: Expert Advice and Support for the Conscientious Parent Just Like You” (Unlimited Publishing LLC, 2012). For details, visit www.myrnahaskell.com.
Tips and tales
“My 18-year-old son wanted to be with his girlfriend in California one Thanksgiving. I realized that if I didn’t let him go, he might be miserable and resentful. Give them freedom to make choices to be with their peers. They will come back and hang out with the family in no time.”
Lisa Zarowitz, Woodstock, NY
“Share the holidays and special events. If your son has dinner at the girlfriend’s house, then he can have dessert at home. The next holiday he should switch. This may sound a little complicated, but it works. everyone is happy.”
Corinne Clerkin, Hyde Park, NY