The Big G’s of Christmas (and Birthdays)

Christmas is a time for the big G’s – Generosity and Gratitude, but often parents are sorely disappointed by the lack of one or both in their teens.  Instead parents may find themselves on the receiving end of the big G’s evil twins – Grinchiness and Grumbling.

Before continuing, you might want to take a refresher course in The Bubble Syndrome , that unavoidable trait which causes teens to be thoughtless and inconsiderate.  Remind yourself that you haven’t raised a horrible child; it really is a phase and shouldn’t be permanent.

I say “shouldn’t be” because its longevity rests partly on your shoulders, and the big G’s – or lack thereof – are great examples of how you need to help your teen learn to be civilized and to use good manners.

“What?!” you cry.  “I taught them manners when they were barely old enough to speak!”  I’m sure you did, and I’ll even wager your toddler was very faithful with his Pleases and his Thank yous.  But how often do you hear them from your teen?  Somehow, the very fact that manners were learned as a toddler renders them childish, and “Please” and “Thank you” can be the first to exit a teen’s vocabulary.

Case in point:  I often hand out chocolate as prizes for games in my classroom.  As I wander from table to table, Ziploc bag in hand, I’ll ask what kind they want.  When the answer is, “Snickers,” I’ll stand and wait.  “SNICKERS,” the student will repeat loudly.  I’ll look her steadily in the eye until she revises the request to “Snickers, PLEASE,” sometimes at the prompting of a fellow student.  (The “Thank you” then follows without any reminding.)

Here’s an interesting concept:  the best cure for ingratitude is actually generosity.  Which, by the way, also has to be taught.  It’s only through giving that a teen will learn how much of yourself you invest in a gift, and why it’s important to know your gift was appreciated.  Give her a chance to spend her time as well as her money on a gift, and she’ll gain a new understanding of the value of a sincere “Thank you.”  She’ll also learn how good it feels to be the giver!

If you find yourself on the receiving end of ingratitude – as in, “Why’d you get me this?  I won’t use it!” – try not to overreact (and commit the teenland sin of “going off.”).  Respond civilly, through clenched teeth if necessary, with something neutral:  “Oh, sorry.  Hand it over and I’ll take care of it.”  Act like you don’t care, and resist the urge to respond sarcastically.  Later, hold a private conversation and explain how and why those kinds of responses are hurtful.  Then follow up with an education in receiving gifts graciously.  Teach your teen that there are certain things you never say, and that it’s okay to just say thank you and not express disappointment at all.  (If the hurtful words were spoken to someone else – Grandma, maybe – then an apology might be in order.)

Whatever happens, don’t give up.  Like driving, learning to behave as a civilized adult requires time and practice.  Whether your teen is rude intentionally or thoughtlessly, you should be consistent in your responses and view each incident as a teachable moment.

Eventually their cold little hearts will grow three sizes, just like that of the original Grinch.  (It just won’t happen in one day.)


  1. One thing that I think made a difference with our son as he transitioned to the teenage years was to ask him each Christmas after presents were opened, not which gift he liked most, but which gift he enjoyed GIVING most. This makes him notice people’s reactions and comments, and makes him feel proud that he can bring so much joy to others. It also helps him think about the gifts that he purchases in a thoughtful way, rather than doing some snatch-and-grab buying.

  2. Thanks for the reminder that teens need to be constantly taught. I teach middle school and I know that you can never assume that they know what’s right. Consistent and constant reminders about having manners is a good reminder for ALL of us. Thanks Sue for posting this. 🙂

  3. It is so good to be reminded to remain in neutral territory, that the lack of gratitude is not a personal attack on us, that it can be dealt with matter-of-factly without an emotional blowup. The perspective you give us is tremendously helpful.

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