Not So Merry Teen Christmas

I was asked by SA Kids magazine recently to write an article about teens who are "less than enthusiastic" at Christmas time.  I've reproduced it here for families in our community who might be struggling with similar issues.


For young families, Christmas day is like a Kleenex ad. Excited, bright-eyed kids bounce with delight at presents and fill parents’ hearts with love.  

Teenagers – not so much. They often sleep in until 10am, sometimes show a distinct lack of enthusiasm for gifts or buying gifts for others and can be far more interested in texting their friends than talking to Grandma Smith.  Parents often feel resentful, disappointed and miss the days when children were smaller.

If this sounds familiar, be assured, you are not alone. Here are some ideas to help you have a merry teenage Christmas.

Don’t take it personally

At an evolutionary level, teens are designed to be most interested in their peers. Instinctively, they need to impress their peer group, not their family of origin. It’s not their fault or yours that Christmas lunch at great auntie Joyce’s house is not their favourite thing to do.  It can help to acknowledge this.

Say something like: “I know these family events aren’t all a barrel of fun for you. I’m sorry about that. I think I remember feeling that way myself.” Remind yourself that their lack of interest in family events is normal, will not last forever, does not mean they are a “bad kid” nor that you are a “bad parent”.

Set up expectations early

Understanding that teens don’t love everything about Christmas does not mean giving up on having teens a part of Christmas. On the contrary: if we have no expectations of teens at Christmas at all we will be resentful and they will miss out.

It’s vital to focus on a few key issues and make sure our expectations are clearly outlined in advance.  

For example, don’t say “I want you up at a reasonable time in the morning” at 11pm Christmas Eve. Instead, bring the issue up a week in advance – and say, “you need to be in the family room by 9am”.  

Don’t just hope they will buy presents for their siblings – tell them.  For example, “All of the kids need to buy a present for their siblings and it needs to be wrapped and under the tree by the 23rd of December”.  

Don’t wait until Christmas morning and say “I want a good attitude at Christmas lunch”. Discuss it a few weeks beforehand and be specific. For example, say “You need to be at the table for an hour without your phone, and making conversation”.

If you expect a certain amount of help, outline this too. Tell them you need two hours on the day for set up, and three hours prior to the day for cleaning. Don’t just hope they pitch in and then get resentful when they don’t.

Make things fun

Parents often spend much time planning, shopping and organising for Christmas to be fun for their small children. But they don’t do the same for teenagers. Christmas can be a time we can show love and appreciation for them too. Think about how you can make at least some of the day enjoyable for your teens. Ask them for ideas.  

For example, you might negotiate events so they can see a friend in the evening or Boxing Day. They might have a part of the day set aside for them to be in the car or in their room listening to music or being on social media. Organise to make some of their favourite foods. 

Perhaps they could be in charge of the music for the day, an aunt or cousin could do manicures with them in the afternoon, or play basketball in the back yard.

Make time to talk

During the Christmas period, take the time to talk to your teen and ask 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 they like about it. Ask them about what they would buy if they had the money, their favourite bands, their friends’ lives, their hopes for next year and anything they are looking forward to about the holidays.

Christmas is about connecting with people we love. Asking questions and showing interest in our teens is the most valuable way we can do this.

Lower expectations

What really counts in life is not how one particular day in December went, but the relationship we have with our teenagers in an ongoing way. Focus on Boxing Day, January and the next year – this is what matters. ϖ

Our waiting list for appointments this year has been far too long.

One of the worst parts of our job here is having to tell parents who are worried about their kids or teens - or feeling overwhelmed by them - is that we have 4-8 week waits. Yet finding additional psychologists to work with us is extremely difficult. I have such an amazing crew of psychologists already, our standards are very high!  So this search for additional child/adolescent psychologists to work with us has been a 6 month process. We had some brilliant applicants and it has taken us some time to sort through but we have finally officially appointed three new child and adolescent psychologists starting in January, February and approximately April next year.

Here are the first two starting - Amanda and Katrina. Both come with a passion for helping young people live to the fullest.  Both have extensive qualifications and a range of interesting and important experiences in working with kids and young people in a range of different settings.  We are really looking forward to working with and learning from them.

As a result of these new positions, we have had some appointments open up early next year.  As of this moment, we have one appointment left in January and several for early to mid February.  I'm not sure how long these appointments will be available as we have previously been having to book new clients in for April.

If you have/know a young person who needs some support and help in managing worry, stress, frustration, positive behaviour or challenging life situations and would like to be seen sooner rather than later - give us a call on 8357 1711 today or when we re-open on the 11th of January next year.

Please share with families who might appreciate or benefit some extra support. Thanks! Kirrilie

I'd like to wish all our families and readers of our blog/articles a very Merry Christmas.  Wishing you moments of joy (even amidst the struggle, frustration and overwhelm) with your kids and teens this year.