Celebrating and Connecting with Your Teen

Holiday time is magical for many reasons, but the date on the calendar does not bring the magic. It’s the special way we feel that transforms annual rituals from mere activities into something deeply meaningful. The magical moments we experience in life have common traits: we feel an unusually high level of connection with our true selves and/or other people (living or dead) and/or the larger universe. The keywords here are ‘feel’ and ‘connection’ – magical moments are a feeling of connection.

Taking a break from school

For teenagers, the most important thing about the holidays is the school break that comes with it. Unless they are one of the few teens that unschool or homeschool, their weekday schedules are mostly set by adults and involve some - or many - activities they perform out of duty rather than interest. A few weeks off can mean an opportunity to mentally and emotionally refresh, plus catch up on sleep.

Parents often underestimate how stressful school can be for teenagers. Compulsory education involves early mornings that don’t coincide well with adolescent circadian rhythms, as well as the pressures of constant deadlines and peer competition. Assignments and tests are hard enough to juggle, especially in the upper grades when the expectations to meet post-graduation requirements are highest. Then consider the additional social strain of trying to belong amidst a culture of comparison about everything from how you look to what music you like.

It is difficult to feel connected when demands from school, work, and sports are pressing down. A definitive pause in the regular lineup of commitments allows for long moments of nourishing connection. Lazy brunches, evening visits with extended family, whole days at the ski hill or out on the sleds, and of course more traditional customs like New Year’s Eve celebrations and presents beneath the tree offer precious opportunities for family members of all ages.

Making decisions with teenagers

Many of us like to do the same things year after year to mark holidays and special occasions. Practicing traditions handed down from our parents and grandparents can help us feel connected to them and a younger version of ourselves. Perhaps you *always* cut down a tree with the kids or enjoy a big meal together at the same relative’s home. Teens might throw a wrench into these plans.

As our children mature we can’t easily cart them around and dictate the itinerary like when they were younger. Teenagers sometimes have jobs and other obligations that require flexibility. Some of them even have a significant other who they want to share celebrations with. And there are definitely teens that turn up their nose at rituals we consider significant but they look at as rigid.

Making decisions as a family and letting teenagers have some power over what happens carries a lot of benefits. Your quickly-changing adolescent is not the same person they were last December, so just because they loved decorating cookies for the last 10 years doesn’t mean they feel the same this time. If you find out what is important to your child – and share with them the most important things to you – you can identify together where a connection can most easily happen.

Re-connecting as a family

Holiday time is perfect for re-connecting. Family is near, the demands of work and school are reduced, and our hearts become warm with generosity and togetherness. When our children are small it seems like parenting will go on forever; their needs are great and the work dominates our lives. But once young people become teenagers, how many Christmases with them do you really have left?

We may have snow all winter but do you make the time to actually go play in it together? There might be a pile of board games in the closet but how often does the whole family get to dig them out for hours of fun? No matter what seasonal holidays you celebrate, or what your religious inclinations are, this is a month when social conventions allow us to take a collective breath and slow things down.

Enjoy some magical moments with your teenagers as 2019 ends. And remember: parents are heroes even when they aren’t playing Santa.

Photo by Vanessa Croome