Surviving the School Holiday Break

The holidays are experienced by families in so many different ways. Some families keep very busy, running from one event to another. Other families slow down and enjoy the peace and quiet for relaxation. Some families are filled with joy, excited to see each other and for the activities they have planned. Other families are filled with stress, either from being too busy or perhaps grieving some loss. If there are teens in your family, there are several ways to ensure that the school break over the winter holidays are a joyful time, regardless of the circumstances.

Reduce Holiday Stress. One major source of holiday stress is being overcommitted or having high expectations for the “perfect” holiday. There is no one right way to experience the holidays and may vary year to year based on the circumstances at the time. One of our previous blogs, Yes, Teens Get Stressed During the Holidays, Too, provides a variety of tips on how to manage holiday stress. It’s important to use a stress relievers – as suggested in that blog – to survive the school break.

Spend Time as a Family. The holidays are a busy time for everyone, but they’re also an ideal time for family bonding. Schedule family game night or movie night, and make sure everyone makes it a priority to be there.  Winter break provides a rare opportunity for your teens to get to know their extended family a little better if they are nearby or you’re willing to travel. If your teens are bored when they travel to a relative’s house, make sure to plan in some “fun” time for them that they can look forward to. Another option is using the break time to teach your teen a new life skill such as cooking or sharing one of your hobbies. Consider what holiday traditions you’d like to establish with your teen. For examples and more information on teen holiday traditions, visit our previous blog Enjoying the Holidays and Creating Traditions with your Teen.  The key is to find enjoyable ways to spend time connecting.

Earn Spending Money. Although winter break isn’t long enough to find “real” employment, many teens can make a little extra spending money by raking leaves, babysitting, shoveling snow, or helping others clean house or take down decorations after the holidays. These odd jobs will keep your teens occupied and make them less dependent on you for all of their expenses.

Volunteer. The holidays are an excellent time to give back to those in need. Local soup kitchens, churches, food banks and hospitals are always in need of a helping hand. Your teens can also get involved with a toy drive or adopt-a-family-in-need program, or raise money for a cause close to their heart. Before you dismiss community service as something your teen won’t be interested in, please read our previous blog Teens and Volunteerism: Try It, They’ll Love It! You may be very surprised!

Get Organized. As new gifts come in with the holidays, encourage your teens to donate the clothes, books and other belongings they no longer use. As they remove the old, they will find “homes” for their new things. By this time, their school study area may need replenishing, too. A thorough reorganization and cleaning will help ensure the next semester gets off to a good start.

Visit Youth Programs. For some teens, the added stress of the holiday season and the lack of daily structure, combined with the extra time spent at home with their family, make it prime time for acting out. During school vacations, many teens experiment with drugs or alcohol, go to unsupervised parties and get into heated arguments with their parents and other relatives. There are many benefits to finding youth programs they can attend during winter break. Read the paper or go on the website for your church and/or town to see if there are any activities planned for youth. Community youth centers, YMCA, and other youth programs are an excellent, safe and supervised way for teens to have fun.

Friendly Activities.  If possible, allow them to have some friends over or to spend the night when you are home to supervise their activities. Most teenagers just enjoy spending time with their friends and many times don’t even need planned activities. But be sure to establish appropriate rules and expectations if your teens go to holiday parties or outings. This time of year tends to see an increase in alcohol consumption, and teens need to be aware of the dangers. In addition to reiterating the perils of drunk driving, let them know some of the future consequences of using alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that 25% of teenagers (or 1 in every 4 teens) engage in “binge drinking”. Approximately 79,000 deaths in the U.S. each year are attributable to alcohol, and of these, roughly half are related to binge drinking. Bingeing increases the risk of other health problems, including unplanned pregnancy, violence, STD transmission, and car crashes. Another recent study shows that heavy drinking by adolescents and young adults is associated with increased long-term risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Studies have also shown that those individuals who begin drinking at early ages are more likely to be alcohol-dependent as adults. An excellent source for information on how to talk to teens about alcohol is: In next week’s blog, we will provide you with some options for a fun and SAFE New Year’s Eve for teens.

Final Notes…

There are very few holiday breaks you’ll have with your teenager – before you know it they will be out on their own. Make every effort to enjoy these special times! We sincerely wish you and your family a happy holiday!

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