Trying to draw teens into family activities during the holidays—or at any time of year—can be challenging. Whether it’s due to anxiety and stress, frustration, or feeling misunderstood, teens don’t always experience the same positive feelings about hanging out with the family that young children and parents typically do. They often have other interests that they rate as more important, like social media, texting with friends, video games, sleep, or watching TV.
Particularly now when families are spending so much time together, teens might be more apt to withdraw to their bedrooms rather than choosing to engage with the rest of the family. In addition, teens may be grieving the lack of social connection outside the immediate family, and dealing with disappointment about what they’ve lost this year.
Finding Safe and Common Ground
Activities during the holidays usually include other relatives and friends, but organizing this type of larger gathering isn’t safe or responsible during the pandemic. However, despite the limitations created by social distancing, families can make the holidays special by creating a schedule of fun activities for parents, siblings, and anyone else in their “pod.” The key is to find fun things to do that speak to each family member’s particular interests and preferences.
Parents often make plans for family activities based on their own vision of what family togetherness should look like. Hence, they choose the activities they think the rest of the family will like, without necessarily consulting each person. When parents take into account the interests of all family members and choose an activity that teens particularly enjoy, they’ll feel heard and acknowledged—and thus be more likely to participate. Finding common ground may take some work, but will be far more rewarding for everyone.
Getting Teens Involved in Planning
An effective method of involving teens in family activities is to include them in the planning process. This gives them a vested interest in both the planning and the outcome. In addition, it requires their participation and provides opportunities for them to interact and collaborate with parents and/or siblings.
Here are some ways that teens can use their strengths and interests to help create family activities:
- Choosing music
- Planning meals and creating fancy menus
- Making a family video
- Serving as the official family photographer, and then creating a memory book or album
- Decorating the house or table
- Shopping or gift wrapping
- Planning games or crafts
- Sending out invitations for an online game or gathering with extended family and friends.
The more input your teen has in choosing their responsibilities, the more invested they will be. By asking for their help and offering them the chance to select the activities they will manage, teens are more likely to feel empowered and in control of their own experience. When they are given assignments, they tend to feel more needed and valued. As a result, they’ll be more excited about family activities.
Creating Harmony Within the Family Relationships
Despite the many hardships and losses of 2020, many teens have benefited from increased time with family. In a report issued by the Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institution, 60 percent of teens surveyed said they were talking to their parents more than they had prior to the pandemic, including the time they spent eating dinner together. Moreover, 68 percent of teens said their family relationships had become closer as a result. Family activities can further strengthen these connections.
In summary, when parents push family activities on teens, the result may be rebellion or irritation—and eventually reluctant participation. However, involving teens in the planning and execution of families activities not only engages them, but also creates a greater sense of harmony and togetherness for everyone. Consequently, this time of focusing on the immediate family can result in enhanced bonding and communication that will far outlast the pandemic.
Finally, if a teen is showing signs of anxiety or depression, they may need additional support. Here’s how to tell whether treatment during the holidays is important for a teen’s well-being.
Teens in Quarantine 2020 Report