The holiday season is upon us. Schools are finishing this week, and everyone will soon be off for a few weeks of Christmas vacation. Ahhh. Finally, we all get a break. For some, the holidays are the most cherished time of the year. For others, the holidays hold memories of disappointment or even loss. For too many of us, however, there’s a third category. It includes those of us who enter the holiday with great expectations, but fail to genuinely experience them by the time January rolls around. The days just slip by us. We wind up enduring the stress of preparations, purchases and clean up, but neglect to take advantage of this ‘extra’ time with our teens.
May I offer three ideas for conversations to have with your teen children over the holidays? They may not be brilliant, but they simply represent a way for you to schedule time to get away, grab a latte, and host a conversation while you’re getting some down time.
Three Holiday Conversations…
1. Talk About Relaxing vs. Recovering
Most high school students would tell you they had a busy fall semester. Between classes, work, practice, exams and friendships, most will enter Christmas break ready to “veg out.” Curiously, within days many will say they’re bored. So they’ll grab their phone out of habit. They’ll sit and do nothing except scroll through their feeds, seeing what captures their attention. Why not schedule some time to grab a coffee and talk about the difference between relaxing (mindless consuming) and really recovering from the stress of a busy Fall. There’s a difference. Relaxing feels real, but still doesn’t offer true recovery. Genuine recovery comes from experiences that are:
- Quiet. Our brains need a break from the noise of social media and screens. Try placing the phone or video game system out of your reach and occupy yourself with some other interest.
- New. Trying something new is as good as rest; it refreshes our minds. Try choosing one new activity, subject or person and get acquainted.
- Nourishing. Feed your mind with something constructive. This will work to refresh you and enable you to recover from a draining lifestyle.
2. Talk About Consuming vs. Contributing
Our western culture conditions us to be consumers. Don’t feel guilty—we all are. This especially surfaces at Christmas, where our young are obsessed with what gifts they’re going to “get.” The problem is, too few students have been conditioned to contribute at a young age. Their excuse is that they don’t have any money or time. They assume when they get older, they’ll begin contributing. The trouble is, the later we start the habit of being generous the harder it is to make it stick. Why not grab a coffee with your teen and talk about contributing now while they’re still young. They might not have tons of money, but they can offer some passionate service for a couple of hours. They may not have lots of time, but they can offer a little to an underserved child. In other words, you don’t have to pay money, but you can pay attention. I know one grade 10 student who told his parents he’d like to swap the money they planned to spend on his Christmas presents and use it to buy some gifts for the children of a single mom he knows. Maybe talk about volunteering as a family with your church or community agency.
3. Talk About Contrasting vs. Comparing
Over the holidays, teens and adults fall into the “comparison trap.” Having some downtime is good—unless it nudges us to our social media platform to see what others are doing or receiving at Christmas. This can turn a positive, grateful mindset into a very negative, grumpy mindset—very quickly. I know of students who loved opening their gifts, but hours later were bored or dissatisfied. Why? They were paralyzed by either getting too much or by seeing too much of what their friends received. Why not grab a coffee and talk about this before you open any presents?
This year, let’s give ourselves some boundaries to enjoy what’s in front of us, not what’s on a screen. Decide on a span of time when everyone agrees to silence their phones or put them in a basket until later that evening. What if you focused on the contrast between what you enjoy on a daily basis, compared with most people on earth. Almost half the world—over three billion people—live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. A full 89% of youth live in impoverished nations, not industrialized nations. Allow this to fill your mind with thankfulness and generosity.
My goal in suggesting these conversations is not for you to feel guilty – or to make your teen feel guilty. Rather, I would love to see you enjoy intentional conversations with your teen children over this Christmas break. Conversations that will help you keep a positive perspective—ones that enable you and your teens to refresh yourselves with meaningful moments this holiday season.