Worried your teen would prefer to text her friends than trim the tree with you? Or FaceTime peers rather than faceoff in a family hockey game? Relax: your independent teen is probably more receptive to family holiday traditions than you think. Though peers become increasingly important in a teen’s life, family still matters.
“Research shows that kids and teens crave tradition and they want connection even though they are starting to separate from us,” says Julie Freedman Smith, co-founder of Parenting Power, a Calgary-based coaching service for parents. Whatever the holiday, the key is to find that sweet spot where everyone has a satisfying mix of traditional family moments and time with friends. Here’s how to get a fair share of each.
Don’t wait ’til the first day of winter break to share holiday plans with your kids. “Often kids feel they get stuck doing too much family stuff when it hasn’t been discussed beforehand and it’s sprung upon them at the last minute,” says Freedman Smith. “They may have already had another idea about how an evening was going to be spent.”
With a 12-year-old daughter on the cusp of her teens, and an 18-year-old son just leaving them, Toronto-based mom Cindy McGee knows conflicts will come up. Still, she admits that until last year, it’s been pretty smooth sailing, thanks in part to a schedule that has always given family members plenty of time for themselves. “We had an issue last Christmas when Mack wanted to spend time with his girlfriend’s family and shirk off time with mine. Mack didn’t tell me until the last minute,” she says.
A family meeting is one of the most efficient ways to get everyone on the same page, says Parenting Power co-founder Gail Bell. If your family doesn’t already hold regular meetings, prepare everyone for how this one will go down. “Let them know in advance, ‘We want to have a planning meeting to discuss family commitments for the holidays,’” she advises. Get your gang to come prepared with things they already have scheduled and any key activities they hope to fit in over the coming days. Then find 30 minutes or so—post-dinner is often a great time—to strategize.
Some holiday events are more important than others, so establish priorities upfront. “We recommend parents decide on their ‘deal breakers’ first, along with things that are optional. Then, approach the teens to determine how things can fit together,” says Freedman Smith.
This approach has worked for Frances Iafrate, a Toronto-based mom who at one point had five teens aged 13 to 18 in her blended family. “Family is non-negotiable,” she says, adding that the kids know that these events matter, particularly to grandparents. “I know I can expect to have a few dinners booked during Christmas Eve and Christmas, and I respect that,” says her son, Nick, now 19, who has spent his entire teen years successfully balancing family time with hockey practice and a social life.
Mature negotiation should be the rule of the season, starting from age 13 and progressing with maturity and additional obligations like sports or part-time jobs. “Work together to figure out how they can get their friend-visits in along with the family traditions,” says Bell. “You might suggest that you have five things you are planning, and you would like them involved in three—which ones will work for them?” To deal with her family’s scheduling issues, McGee adjusted her expectations, coming to a compromise that worked for everyone. “I think [Mack] was surprised I did that, but I do know the importance of girlfriends and their families,” she says.
Finally, remember: teens will assert their own identity and have their own set of social priorities, but that doesn’t mean they don’t value their family time—or the traditions they grew up with. “My favourite tradition is opening gifts Christmas morning because everyone’s so excited to see how much people love their gifts,” says Nick. “It’s a really special moment that comes only once a year.”
Yuki Hayashi’s family tradition is to mix things up each year.
Want more advice on parenting your teen? You’ll like:
Helping your Teen Adjust to a Regular Sleep Schedule
Cellphone Benefits and Boundaries for Teens
Teenage Behaviour: What’s Normal, What’s Not