Wisdom//

How to Keep Your Teens Interested in Family Time During the Holidays, According to a Therapist

A therapist's advice for thriving with your family during the holidays.

By Syda Productions/Shutterstock
By Syda Productions/Shutterstock

The holiday season usually means more family time. While that may make parents and grandparents feel warm and fuzzy, teens are more likely to roll their eyes at the thought of another family gathering.

It’s developmentally normal for teens to pull away from their families and be more interested in time with friends. But it’s okay to make family time more obligatory than usual during the holidays. These strategies can help keep your teens interested in family time during the holiday season.

Let them get in the holiday spirit in their own way

While you might enjoy binge watching Hallmark movies during the month of December, your teen might prefer to watch “Elf” for the zillionth time. Don’t judge them for their efforts to gain some good cheer.

Let your kids get in the holiday spirit in their own way. Don’t force them to listen to your Christmas music or shop ’til they drop if they aren’t into it. Otherwise, you’ll risk making the holiday season miserable for everyone involved.

Ask your teens for input. Encourage them to share their ideas about how they’d like to spend the holiday season. Incorporate some of their ideas into your holiday season, and they’ll likely be more invested in family time.

Make room for your teen’s activities

Your teen’s frustration about the holiday gathering at grandma’s house might not be because it’s a family gathering. Instead, their irritability might be due to the fact that grandma’s party is at the exact same time as the basketball game they wanted to attend with their friends. Your teen might be happy to attend the party as long as they know they can still go out with their friends later.

While it’s healthy for your teen to learn that they have to sacrifice some “fun with friends” for family obligations, making a little room for your teen’s favorite activities can make obligatory events less stressful for everyone.

Whether this means allowing your teen to bring a friend to a family activity or leave an event a little early, help make time for some of your child’s favorite activities.

Give your teens some control

Your teens will tolerate family time better when they have some control over their situation. Allow them freedom over small things and they’ll be more cooperative with the big things.

When it makes sense to do so, offer two choices. Ask questions like, “Do you want to decorate the tree tonight or in the morning?” or “Would you rather watch the movie with the younger kids or do you want to bake cookies with me?” Just make sure you can live with either choice.

Set your expectations ahead of time

You can eliminate a lot of disagreements with good communication. Establish your expectations ahead of time and you might be surprised at how smoothly things can go.

Saying, “I expect you to keep your phone on silent and out of sight during the party” might prevent an argument at the event. Similarly, saying “I expect you to show up for at least two hours” could prevent a lot of confusion and frustration down the road.

Of course, your teens might not agree with your expectations and you might get some pushback. But making your expectations clear ahead of time will give your teen time to calm down.

Pick your battles wisely

While you can make family time mandatory, you can’t force your teen to have fun. So make sure you pick your battles wisely.

Rather than argue about every little activity or insist your teen “have a better attitude” about everything, focus on the bigger picture. Whether you let your teen skip the ugly sweater family tradition or turn off the Christmas music in the car, accept that it’s normal for teens to be less interested in family holiday activities than they were in years past.

Pick a few battles that you want to fight this year. If it’s an activity or tradition that could build relationships or create lasting lifetime memories, insist that your teen participate. But be willing to let some issues go — even if it means your teen won’t attend every single family event.

A little holiday magic likely lingers

Even though your teen may act disinterested in family gatherings over the holidays, keep in mind that for some teens it’s a bit of an act. Many of them still secretly enjoy drinking hot cocoa and helping the family decorate the tree, even though they may not admit it. So try not to get too discouraged when your teens insist they don’t want to be with family. Instead, be flexible, stay focused on the bigger picture, and savor the happy holiday moments when you can.

Originally published on Business Insider.

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