Holiday Survival Guide

The holidays can be both a joyous and a stressful time for our families. If you have a teenager in your home, here are some tips for helping you and your teen thrive over the holiday break:

Fight Boredom

Although teens need some downtime, time off from school with nothing to do increases the chance that your teen will be moody and/or engage in risky behaviors due to having too much free time on their hands. There are lots of ways for teens to enjoy their time during school break without driving mom and dad crazy. Beyond the usual “hanging out” with friends, the school break is an excellent time for lots of fun activities. Plan family activities, such as decorating cookies, making s’mores over a winter bonfire, hosting a board game tournament, or making a crazy music video to your teen’s favorite song. During the break, teens can also find positive engagement by making money through odd jobs or babysitting, volunteering at a food bank or other local nonprofit, reorganizing their room to find homes for new gifts and donating old things, connecting with youth programs at the YMCA or other local community groups, or pitching in with household duties.

Beware Holiday Parties

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University conducted research that showed some discrepancies in parents’ perceptions and teens’ reality of parties. While 80% of parents believe that neither alcohol nor marijuana is usually available at parties their teens attend, 50% of those teens said that alcohol, drugs or both are available at parties they attend. In addition to the risk of substance abuse, teen parties also increase the chances your teen might be exposed to violence or sexual encounters.

To combat these problems, you should discuss the risks of parties with your teen, as well as your expectations for their behavior. Surveys show that one of the top reasons teens say they choose to make responsible choices on a wide range of risky behaviors is because they don’t want to disappoint their parents, so you have a lot of influence.

Establish rules for attending parties that make you feel comfortable while still allowing your teen the opportunity to socialize. Examples of good party rules are:

  • Do not use drugs or drink alcohol.
  • Be home by midnight. (or a reasonable curfew time depending on your child’s age and maturity)
  • At least one parent must be on party premises at all times.
  • Provide the phone number and address of the party, and call me if the location changes.
  • Provide your transportation plan, and call me if you don’t have a safe way to get home.
  • Do not leave the party for any reason. (separate locations can lead to drug use or sexual assaults)


Establish Holiday Traditions

Be sure to consider your family’s holiday traditions. The maintenance of family traditions is far more important to children of all ages than most parents realize. Despite their eye-rolling, teens gain a sense of belonging through family rituals that make them part of a clearly defined unit. Simple things – such as sharing a special meal or wearing a holiday outfit or watching a specific movie – can create lasting memories. Although traditions are very important to maintain, they must also be flexible. Changing family dynamics – such as divorce, the loss of a loved one, or even the changing ages of family members – require new traditions to be established. Ask your teens for input. Your teen can help you decide which traditions need to be kept and what new traditions should be created to fit the family.

Compromise. As you make plans for the holiday break, make sure you engage in some give and take with your teen. Perhaps your teen agrees to attend your office holiday party if they can skip the neighbor’s boring gathering. Perhaps you agree to allow their friend to come with you to grandma’s holiday party if your teen will participate in a silly family tradition with a positive attitude. If you sit down and work out some compromises with your teen, you will be teaching them an important life skill that they will need in adulthood, and you will be ensuring a more peaceful and relaxed holiday for the entire family.

Focus on the positive. With so much time together, it’s easy to notice all of your teen’s problems and shortcomings. Instead, make a conscious effort to look for desirable behavior, and then, praise your teen. Choose to find good things that make you feel grateful. Having an attitude of gratitude can change the entire tone of a family’s dynamics.

Encourage thankfulness. Instilling a spirit of thankfulness in youth will serve them well throughout life because studies consistently show that people who are grateful are happier overall in their lives than people who are not and are less likely to be materialistic. Role model sincere appreciation, notice small things that you ordinarily take for granted, and share your thoughts on what you are grateful for.

Final Thoughts…

Sometimes teens get a bad rap because they can be moody, frustrating and difficult. These qualities can make a parent dread the holidays. But teens can also be insightful, funny, and thoughtful. During this holiday season, try to appreciate your teen for the person they are becoming, work to compromise with them on plans, find simple ways to maintain or create traditions, and you will discover the joy that the holidays are meant to share.

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