I have two teenage sons. I really miss the days when all was magic for them at Christmas. But the older they become the more cynical about they are. Last year, we went caroling as a family and it was a disaster. My youngest son, age 14, was sullen, depressed and pouting. He hardly participated and rarely even smiled. And my other son, who is 16, was loud, obnoxious and rude – making up lyrics to the tune of songs held sacred by some and (forgive me) making jokes about Santa that were less than flattering. How do we get our boys to enjoy the traditions we have always had as a family?
Elizabeth H. – El Paso, Texas
Do your boys still look forward to Christmas? As teenagers, they are at the peak of self-discovery. So much of what they do is not so much out of rebellion as it is out of a desire to be independent and in control of the circumstance.
The answer to this is to give them some ownership. Now, I’m not suggesting that you give up the family tradition of caroling. But perhaps you can meet as a family in advance of the season and propose some ways they can make it more fun and interesting for them. Rule out any mischief, by all means. But grant them some latitude in trying some things you have not done before.
I once heard of a family who took up the tradition of the Christmas Phantom. Instead of caroling – which some kids feel puts them on a stage and in an uncomfortable spot – they prepared plates of goodies and played doorbell ditch on their neighbors and friends. The kids were wildly enthusiastic about not getting caught and went to great lengths to devise schemes, disguises and strategies. Another family I knew took it one step further by putting a note on the goodies daring the recipient to come out and find the Phantom. This made it a physical activity and one more suited to them than singing a cappella in front of people.
On a different note, some parents in the vein of tough love, radically change family traditions when their kids turn into teenagers. As they change from being kids to being teens, you should accept a degree of bitterness and negativity. That’s not to say that such behavior is right. But often these behaviors are merely symptoms of deeper feelings you need to discover. Be careful not to be guilty of negative judgement yourself!
I would urge great caution. Working in a soup kitchen, visiting a homeless shelter or attending to the mentally ill are all great ideas and need to be done. But if your kids have never been involved before don’t shock them by throwing them in deep waters. Start out small with charitable activities and slowly let them develop their own sense of duty and goodwill through their intelligent powers of observation.
You have to trust your efforts as their parent their whole life that the lessons and values have held. But as independent thinkers, your teens need to be able to express it in their own way and to their own satisfaction rather than within the confines of an innocent family tradition.
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