Compromise With Teens to Keep the Peace During Holidays
Really? No more chestnuts roasting on the open fire? No more cozy family traditions? Your teen has decided to ditch the family and be with a special someone. Did you pitch a fit and say if he doesn't spend time with the family this holiday season you're cutting him out of the will?
When kids are young, the anticipation of rich chocolate desserts and time off from school is all it takes 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 may be even stronger. One friend regaled me with a tale of a ruined holiday: When their family headed out of town to Grandma's, her teenage daughter remained miserable for the entire 10 days, and then some.
Despite a teen's preoccupation with friends and crushes, holiday traditions and family rituals are more important to him or her than you might think. You 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 table.
Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical assistant professor at Brown University 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), explains, "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."
It might ease conflicts if you ask for your teen's help with the holiday planning. He or she probably has some creative talents you can put to good use. Give him things he can be responsible for, such as creating the family newsletter or choosing items for the holiday menu. This provides an opportunity to make a contribution. If she feels like she is an integral part of the holiday experience, instead of a mere spectator, she might buy into your need to have her around.
However, despite your best intentions and efforts, your teen still might want to spend time elsewhere.
"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," Haltzman says. "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 before or after that 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."
Consider the age of your child, her relationship with this friend or friends, and her attitude toward the family. Sometimes the idea of "family coming first" is foreign to teens because they tend to be egocentric. However, 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 afterwards. Do your best to avoid a nasty battle to keep the "happy" in the "holidays."
Myra Beth Haskell is the mother of two teens. She has written about parenting, family issues and children's health for more than 12 years.
Tips And Tales From Other Parents
"My teens are 15 and 19 and I still expect them home on the holiday itself. Then they can go see their friends after [the] family dinner. Soon girlfriends/boyfriends and other life activities take over, but as long as I am Mama Bear, I'm holding my ground. Holidays are for family."
— Phyllis Hutchinson Eynon, Conifer, Colo.
"Share time with both families is what I would recommend. Don't allow your teen to forfeit traditions, but include the girlfriend/boyfriend if it helps."
— Lynda Lyons Radano, Berlin, N.J.