Thanksgiving and Christmas are here and I’m sure there are many family events to be had if they haven’t happened already. They can either bring extreme amounts of joy as the family gathers or extreme anxiety depending on history. Either way, there are some definite “not to dos” when it comes to interacting with your teenager around family members and friends.
I remember being a teen and either having these things happen to me or watching it happen to my friends. Even now in my adulthood, I’ve witnessed countless interactions between parent and child that set my teeth on edge. It’s hard to watch the shoulders of a teenager slump and their spirit be destroyed in a matter of seconds just by the power of someone’s words.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Prov. 18:21)
I want you and your family to eat good fruits. To be a representation of Christ’s love and affirmation to everyone who is a witness regardless if they agree or not. Be prepared to defend your family and your choices as a parent especially if you didn’t grow up Christian. Stand confident on what you decide as a family and the way you all treat each other. Remember, your teenager was also made in the image of Christ. People aren’t just watching, heaven is too.
Here are some things NOT to do when visiting with family and friends while interacting with your teenager (this just doesn’t have to be for the holidays either but also in general)
1) Embarrass them-
Now I know a lot of families like to joke around and roast each other. Our family is definitely one of those. I’m not saying not to have a good time but be aware of the direction the conversation is going and take cues from your teenager. One of the many signs you are embarrassing them is when they say, “Stop.”
Plain and simple.
Apologize and then shift the conversation. Embarrassing them may seem like a fun way to get attention but you are losing your teen’s trust. We are called to protect them and this includes their ability to feel comfortable and safe in your presence including when there’s an audience. They have many vulnerabilities, let’s not point them out. The enemy is already doing that on a full time basis.
2) Name call-
Aside from terms of endearment, calling your teenager names is completely unacceptable. Again, they were made in the image of Christ and even when YOU have messed up a thousand times God still calls you by your identity in Him not by the shadows of your mistakes. We are called to do the same.
It’s not only abusive but it sets the tone for how they think of themselves. I remember being at a birthday party my daughter was invited to and a father of one of the teens there proceeded to call her, “Sasquatch and Big Foot” and talked about her weight. Immediately, she looked at me embarrassed and told him to stop. If that didn’t stop him, my death stare definitely did. We wonder why so many teens are dying from eating disorders, severe depression, etc.
Words are powerful. It can either save them from the pit or push them deeper into it.
Also, don’t be afraid to speak up for a teen. I have zero shame setting someone straight and defending a teen. Adults usually won’t listen to a teen but when confronted with truth from another parent or adult they may feel the heat from an unsupportive audience and hopefully change their tone.
3) Talk bad about them-
This may seem like name calling but this includes having conversations with relatives about how badly they are doing or what you don’t like about them. It could be about their school grades, how they act just like their father, the new boyfriend you don’t like, or their friends. Everything negatively attached to them is a reflection of who they are or who you think they are. They will take offense.
Even if you think they are not listening, I promise you they are.
I don’t care if they are in another room playing video games, headphones on with a hoodie pulled over, or outside with cousins. The enemy has a strategic way of allowing dishonoring talk to enter into your teenager’s ears. Either they were already listening or the “perfect” moment happens when they catch your words, and they will be crushed.
Your teen needs to overhear you talking great and amazing things about them.
There’s something about the idea of “overhearing” someone talk amazing things about you behind your back that makes their words feel more genuine. They will walk around with a straighter back. Confidence is often shown in posture.
We all need support and a place to vent our frustrations but we need to set a special time for that. In a coffeehouse, your best friend’s home, a phone call while they are at school, the point is to set a time where you know they will not be around and the threat of them hearing isn’t there.
4) Put them in uncomfortable positions-
Now with the holidays, you may be staying over at a family’s or friend’s house due to distance or tradition. Listen to your teenager and make the call especially when something seems off. Even if it feels awkward, find the best means to communicate you and your family’s wishes for accommodations. For instance, I always feel better writing so I will either write or email if I’m feeling uncomfortable with a certain detail.
Talk about sleeping arrangements ahead of time so you can check in with your teenager to make sure they feel comfortable with them.
This way it’s not a surprise to anyone and they can communicate how they truly feel in the safety of your home without the fear of hurting someone’s feelings or being forced to stay somewhere they aren’t comfortable with. We are still called to protect them. Feel free to ask questions. Unfortunately, many sexual abuse cases have happened and are more common with family and family friends. You don’t want to continually put them in a compromising situation where they are accessible.
5) Forget them-
So many times, you will see a teenager standing awkwardly in the corner while adults are deep into conversation and younger siblings are playing with younger cousins. Include them in conversation. I’m blessed to have people in my teenager’s life who care and want to hear about her life. They make it a point to ask her questions, lead her into deep theological discussion, and help bring reflection into where she is at life. She has always been the older one with siblings and cousins so when a person goes out of their way to include her it is definitely noted.
Also, everyone’s situation is different but if you can don’t sit them at the kids table unless they have cousins their age who they can converse with or they are absolutely in love with younger kids in general. I’ve seen some teens who love taking care of the littles and want to be with them. Otherwise, include them in conversation. Allow the older generation to speak life into them. Allow them to be educated by healthy strong men and women. Again, these kinds of people may not exist in your family so you might want to keep them away but check in with your teen throughout any holiday event so they feel seen.
Never be afraid to ask your teen what they are comfortable with. They have opinions and they matter. Just because you had to deal with certain stuff doesn’t mean they have to also.
6) Threaten them with violence-
There have been many times where I’ve witnessed parents threaten violence on their teens during family events. I come from a cultural background where it’s like a badge of honor to do this. I’ve heard things like, “Talk one more time and I’ll punch you in the face…” “Do you want me to beat you in front of everyone?” I was in an abusive relationship where this type of language was used and it’s so hurtful and embarrassing. All eyes are on you waiting for something to happen. What kind of love is that?
God does not call us to mean, He calls us to be just.
Now I’m not saying, “Don’t discipline them.” I’m saying don’t abuse your power over someone you are supposed to love and protect.
When talking to my teen about these “not to dos”, she added, “not to threaten violence even if it’s just playing around.” You never know how the person is going to take it. As men and women of God, we want people to experience God’s peace in your presence. The world threatens them with enough violence.
7) Lose family dynamic-
Now people may or may not agree with me but I do believe in setting standards for your family especially with holidays and special events. Celebrating holidays helps create memories and bonding. I’m not opposed to other people coming to your home to experience a safe and Godly environment but I am opposed to allowing teenagers to celebrate outside the home away from their nuclear family. This is especially when teenagers start dating and they want to celebrate with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Unless your teenager is engaged, then there is no reason for them to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with someone who may just be around for a few months. Plus, you don’t know what they allow in their homes including Christians! Unfortunately, closed and locked bedrooms doors are common in homes with teenagers.
The reality this day and age is that parents aren’t always off and there are few opportunities for dinners together. Obviously, some parents do have to work during the holidays or some nuclear families are toxic and abusive. However, if you’re just allowing your son or daughter to celebrate somewhere else because “they’re a teenager” then you are robbing everyone of time that is quite limited and crucial in creating bonds that can last a lifetime.
8) Discipline them with an audience-
Anytime discipline happens, if at all possible, bring it outside of the audience at hand. Just like you don’t correct your spouse in front of people, it’s the same with your teenager. The only exception I would say is if there is a severe show of disrespect and it needs to be corrected immediately like cursing out a family member at the dinner table.
Removing them from an audience will help ensure you have their undivided attention and your relationship with your teen won’t be compromised to the expectations of others.
Take them outside or into another room where you are able to have a conversation and correct them there. Use words like, “Help me understand…” and ask, “Why did you do that?” Sometimes we are so quick to shut teenagers down that we don’t give the opportunity to explain themselves. Let them vent, give them time with support, and if apologies are needed then seek it at a time where not everyone is present. Bring in only those who are necessary to bring in but creating drama where everyone is a witness will severely damage your relationship.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ (Matt. 18:15-16)
It should go without saying that beating, hitting, cursing at, threatening, is an unhealthy way to discipline your teenager. It will only add fuel to the fire and may be a reason why they are acting out to begin with.
They have to learn to express themselves without the threat of violence. Otherwise, their body will learn to respond from adrenaline rather than a place of calm and rationality. I’m speaking from the ghost of the teenager I was, where communication and violence were one in the same. Save your teenager from future job loss, divorce, and repeated offenses against your grandchildren by giving them the space to learn how to communicate now.
Obviously, these are not perfect, everyone’s situation is going to be unique but I pray these are guidelines you can step back and reflect on. Teenagers are people. They are the next generation. What are we passing on? What generational habits and curses do we want to stop? If we are not allowing our teenager to be a person, ask yourself why. If you need help, ask. Talk to your Youth Pastor, parents, teachers, and trusted people around you for advice and direction. Allow them to speak honestly without offense. It does take a village to raise a child and you have the ability and the resource in Jesus Christ to give them a great one.
I pray the Lord will protect you and your family as you figure out how to best create beautiful holiday memories with every member of your family including your amazing teen. In His Name, Jesus Christ, amen!
Baskets of Blessings,