Sometimes it can be hard to have some holiday fun with teens, but never underestimate the power of some Forced Family Fun.
My teenager didn’t want to trick-or-treat this year. She didn’t want to dress up. She didn’t seem to acknowledge the holiday at all.
I get it. She is sixteen. She had to study for an AP English test the next day. She had plans to attend a party the night before.
But it just didn’t feel right to me to have her holed up in her room on a night she used to LOVE!
So I stopped by the Halloween store and bought her a cat headband and a tail and put it on her bed with a note that read: “I hope you’ll help me give out candy tomorrow from 3-7 p.m. Traditional refreshments will be provided.”
And my heart soared when she texted me: “Got your note. I’m in!”
We ended up eating mummy dogs and drinking Blood Orange soda. She handed out candy while we listened to her favorite playlist. She ended up going to a friend’s house for a bit after, but we had 2.5 hours of togetherness, and I considered that a major win.
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Sometimes our teenagers need to participate in some forced family fun, especially at the holidays.
Last year we drove through a new holiday lights display event. I texted my friend to let her know it was great and that my three teens enjoyed it.
The truth was, my kids didn’t want to go, but my husband and I made them. We might have sweetened the deal a little bit by letting our daughter with the learner’s permit drive and offering frozen yogurt to the other two, but we were going.
My friend’s return text didn’t surprise me. “Ugh,” she replied. “I can’t get the teenager to go. He said it’s for little kids.”
“MAKE HIM GO!” I angry-texted back. “He needs some holiday cheer.”
Because if there was ever a group that needs some holiday magic, it’s teenagers.
Every kid in the country has missed out on something the last two years, some more than others. In our area, school was shut down, sports were canceled, and social events were limited. Most parents had to beg their teens to wake up and get on their laptops so they can face hours of online learning, then after school, they spent hours trying to figure out what they were supposed to have learned that day.
Now that life is starting to return to some sense of normalcy, our teens are still faced with protestors outside their schools, crazy TikTok challenges, contentious debates all over social media, and a struggle to keep up academically.
Future plans for college or trade school may have changed. Some friendships were lost. Depression and anxiety remain.
Some of these kids miss the way things used to be. Others are struggling to find their place again. Their already teen-limited motivation is at an all-time low. They are trying to figure out this new normal.
And as parents, we are left grasping at straws trying to figure out what to do for our children.
How much do we push our teenagers?
How much do we turn the other cheek? What is their breaking point?
For most of these big kids, I don’t think they have any idea what they need right now, so sometimes we have to give them a little push in the right direction.
In the case of my friend whose son is having a particularly hard time these last few months, I felt he needed a big fat shove to go see some lights. I knew he was going through a rough patch and felt isolated. His mom tried to give him some space, but unfortunately, when left to his own devices, he withdrew even further. It became harder to get him to come out of his room, to get him to exercise, to care about anything. He was stuck in a cycle and couldn’t break out of it.
Sometimes when we see these adult-sized children in front of us, we forget their brains aren’t fully developed yet. In times of crisis, they don’t always make the best decisions for themselves; when their lives are tough, they don’t always know how to get out of the muck.
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Forced family fun is never wrong in these situations.
Sometimes, we need to aggressively encourage them to participate.
We have to remember that big kids still get excited by Christmas lights, they still love hot chocolate, they still wonder what the gifts are under the tree–even when they act like they don’t care.
The next night my friend texted me. “Thanks for pushing me to make him go. We ended up having a great time,. He tried to look bored driving there, but once we got in it was awesome. We even took a selfie!”
We need to keep inviting our teens, again and again.
I’m finding when I leave my teenagers to their own devices, they make it seem like they don’t want to participate in the holiday fun, but like when I invited my daughter to participate in Halloween, they often don’t turn the opportunity down.
And when I think it’s important, I gently prod them along.
I might say things like, “Yes, you will be here for this.”
Or, “This is not optional.”
Or, “I believe you will enjoy this today, so you are going to do it for at least an hour.” Note, once in it, it was always more than an hour.
Surly teens may say they don’t want to bake cookies, but make them do it anyway. Adolescent girls may roll their eyes when you want to take the cheesy photo in matching pajamas in front of the tinsel tree from your childhood, but make them do it anyway. Your man-child may not want to put his video game controller down long enough to watch The Grinch, but make him do it anyway.
And who knows. Some of your teens’ best memories may come from those activities you forced them to do–even if they don’t act like it.
They may even thank you for it.