How to Involve Reluctant Teens in Family Christmas Celebrations

Do you have a teenager in your house who is unenthusiastic about family Christmas celebrations?  Be reassured, you are not alone.  All across the country there are teens sitting at Christmas dinner tables looking as excited as they do in a double maths class on a Friday afternoon.  Here are some ideas to navigate this situation.

First, acknowledge up front their lack of interest – and don’t take it personally.

At a fundamental evolutionary level, teens are designed to be most interested in being with and communicating with peers.  Instinctively, family is not their first priority right now.  It’s not their fault – nor yours – that Christmas lunch at great auntie Joyce’s house is not their favourite thing to do.  It can help to acknowledge this with them.  Say something like:

“I know this isn’t that fun for you.  I’m sorry that it’s something to be endured.  I’m sure most teenagers felt the same way, in fact I think I remember it myself”

And although they need to be involved, be understanding about this.  When they roll their eyes, look sullen and annoyed – don’t bite back.  Show some empathy instead.

Insist that they be involved in some way – but compromise

Yes, teens should be involved in family celebrations.  Don’t let them off the hook entirely - part of being part of a family is coming along to family gatherings.  But it’s also important for them to have some fun.  It’s their Christmas too.  Can they see a friend in the evening?  Can they have some part of the day as a facebook escape?  Can they go out on boxing day with their mates?

Plan the day and set up the expectations well in advance of the day itself.  If you expect them to sit at the table for two hours, and then be excused, negotiate this with them before the day.  If you expect them to talk to their Grandma for a while and not go off to their room as soon as people arrive – then talk this through and be specific.  When I say “talk this through” and “negotiate” – I mean ask the teen for their concerns and wishes, share your own and then try to reach middle ground. 

Ask the teenager if they have any ideas about how things can be more fun

Try to make the celebrations enjoyable for the teenager in small ways.  Play music they like for some of the time (yes, actually through the speakers.  I know, I'm insane.  But it's Christmas).  Include their favourite foods at meal times.  Put some video game time, or DVD watching, or manicures – or whatever they like to do – on the agenda.  Make sure you get their input about making the time slightly more pleasurable for them.  Ask them about what factors could ease the boredom/pain a little.   If they don’t have any ideas – take a guess and ask if you are on the right track.

On the day make conversation with the teen – about things they are interested in

On the day, take the time to talk to your teen and make conversation with them.  But not about school or career goals – or the things that interest you.  Instead ask them to tell you about things they are interested in.  This is the perfect time to find out about that video game they have been playing all year – how it works, what levels are in it, what they like about it.  Ask them about their ideal formal outfit, their perfect surfing outing, their favourite bands.  Ask them about their friends – what they are up to – and anything they are looking forward to about the holidays.

Finally, lower your expectations. 

This can be a tough day for lots of people, and teens are no exception.  Try to be as kind as you can.