Updated October 28, 2022
Surviving holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas can be at the top of our lists along with what to buy at the grocery store or what to get for Christmas. Although we may be thinking of our own survival, we can forget our teens may also be thinking about surviving holidays as well. Holidays can either bring extreme amounts of excitement and joy as the family gathers or extreme anxiety depending on history on not only what you have experienced but also what they may have experienced. Either way, there are some definite “not to dos” when it comes to interacting with your teenager around family members and friends during any holiday season.
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 teen 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 especially during what is supposed to be times of holiday celebration.
I want you and your family to eat good fruits. To be a representation of Christ’s love and affirmation, to God, to yourself, to your teenagers, and to everyone who is a witness, 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 the only ones watching, heaven is too.
Part of surviving holidays not only includes “what to dos” but here are some “what NOT to dos” when visiting with family and friends and interacting with your teenager (take note of these things for general life too not only for surviving holidays).
Surviving Holidays: 8 Things NOT to do to Your Teen this Holiday Season
1) Embarrass them-
Now I know a lot of families like to joke around and roast each other. Our family was 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.”
Stop. Plain and simple.
If anyone is getting embarrassed, openly 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. Unfortunately, many people use humor to emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically (we have often felt the physical sting of words) abuse others and then use the excuse, “I was only joking..” to get away with it.
You may say, ” They were fine when I did it [ENTER DATE]…”, even if at one time they were able to take it, even if that was yesterday, when they say, “Stop.” Stop. This may be a season, an audience, or a moment where they can’t take it and that’s ok. Take their cues!
You may want to cut it out altogether for family events. They have many vulnerabilities, let’s not point them out especially with a crowd who may want to add their own put downs and may not respect their limit. 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 in embarrassment 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.
If anything, your family should be outdoing each other with compliments. Use your words to build them up and they will learn to build you up as well. I’ve experienced this with my own young adult child. I built her up during her teen years and she in turn learned how to build me up in front of others. Not that this should be your motive, but the outflow of love will be evident in your words and can be an example to others. Many have said, they too want to have a family where they treat each other this way. Just because you didn’t grow up in it, doesn’t mean you can’t start it in your own family.
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. However, 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 your teenagers 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 dishonorable 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. Teens are the same. They will walk around with a straighter back. Confidence is often shown in posture. If you are wondering why your teenager is walking around hunched over, you may want to check your words to see if they are the weight that is hanging from your teenager’s back.
Listen, we all need support and a place to vent our frustrations especially during the teenage years, 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, and the point is to set a time where you know they will not be around and the threat of them hearing isn’t there. Holiday events are NOT the time!
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.
Part of surviving holidays are being prepared. 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. Ask questions.
Unfortunately, many sexual abuse cases have happened and are more common with family members 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 discussions, and help bring reflection into where she is at life. She has always been the older sibling and cousin, so when a person goes out of their way to include her it is definitely noted.
Also, I know everyone’s eating style and customs are different. However, 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, save them a seat at the adult table. Include them in conversation. Allow the older generation to speak life into them and be educated by healthy strong men and women (Titus 2:2-6). 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. I remember sitting myself with my teen at a family event because they isolated her and I had no problem doing so. They ended up switching both our seats to the main table but most of all, my daughter saw I had her back and would be isolated with her if need be. They have opinions and they matter. Just because you had to deal with certain stuff doesn’t mean they have to also. It’s your chance to stop generational habits and curses from taking over your teenager and future generations. Abuse or unkind behavior can stop with you.
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.
Most of us wouldn’t allow that kind of talk from a friend, coworker, or someone on the street. Why do we think it’s ok to talk like that to our teenager? They are people we are supposed to love and direct with Godly character. How are we representing Christ when we sound like the devil?
When I was writing this blogpost and I was talking to my teen about these “not to dos”, she told me to add, “Not to threaten violence even if it’s just playing around.” Threats of violence never set a tone of comfort and peace which should be the atmosphere we create in our home and when we are out with our family. As men and women of God, we want people to experience God’s peace in our presence. The world threatens them with enough violence, let us not be a part of it.
7) Lose family dynamic of Godly habits and standards-
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. Again, a practical way of surviving holidays is planning, communicating, and recommunicating these habits and standards ahead of time.
Celebrating holidays help 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 be around for a few days or months. Plus, you don’t know what is allowed in that person’s home, including Christians! Unfortunately, closed and locked bedrooms doors are common in homes with teenagers and I have seen this even with people who call themselves Christians. This goes for friend’s houses too.
The reality of this day and age is that parents aren’t always off and there are few opportunities for dinners together. Yes, there are situations where parents do have to work during the holidays or some nuclear families are toxic and abusive. However, if you’re 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 with their family.
8) Discipline them with an audience-
Anytime discipline happens, if at all possible, bring it outside of the audience at hand. I’m talking about Godly, safe, and healthy discipline. I personally do not believe in physical discipline although I know there are many others who would disagree. Even if you believe in spankings, teenagers are beyond the age of that. It is time to enter into a proper form of discipline that includes speaking scripture and communication well. Also, we are often counseled to not correct our spouses 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 or an extreme situation like that.
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. People will not have the same family dynamic as you do or may expect the same unhealthy and toxic methods of discipline to be passed down. By removing yourself and your teenager, it gives you the space you need to continue to instill the Godly, safe, and healthy habits you are cultivating for your family. Emphasis on the “YOUR”.
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. Maybe something happened you didn’t get to witness like maybe they cursed someone out because they were touched inappropriately. Let them vent, give them time with support, and IF apologies are needed then seek it at a time where not everyone is present unless there is a specific family member that an apology is owed to. Bring in only those who are necessary to bring in, but creating drama where everyone is a witness will severely damage your relationship.
It should go without saying that beating, hitting, cursing at, threats of violence, are all unhealthy ways 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 in a Godly, safe, and healthy way now.
Surviving holidays shouldn’t be the only reason why these guidelines are set. I also understand these are not perfect, everyone’s situation is going to be unique. However, I pray these are guidelines you can step back, reflect on, pray on, heal where you need healing, and be the beginning of Godly, safe, and healthy family dynamics.
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. I pray one day it won’t be about surviving holidays but thriving in them and I pray all these things in the Mighty Name of Jesus Christ, amen!
Baskets of Blessings,