Now What?


Three things you can count on beginning December 26:  overflowing trash, the end of Christmas music on the radio,  and middle schoolers whining, “I’m so booooooored!”

For a non-driving young teen, these days away from school stretch endlessly, even with so many ways to connect electronically with friends.  Their misery multiplies if parents have to work, leaving them home with only the TV, computer, and game system for entertainment. Many parents don’t want their kids spending all day in cyberspace, but they don’t know how to prevent it.

While screen time isn’t totally avoidable, parents should still sit down with their teens and agree upon limits for gaming time and for allowable TV shows and websites.  Just be aware that limits are  hard to enforce from the workplace, especially if there aren’t siblings to police each other.

One good option is to leave a list of chores to be completed before getting on any electronics.  Here’s your chance to get bathrooms scrubbed, floors vacuumed, and bedrooms cleaned! (If you come home from work to find chores unfinished, just pack the computer/game system power cords to work with you the next day.)

Be aware that sometimes a complaint of boredom is a way of guilting you into giving permission for an activity you don’t usually allow, like hanging out at the mall for hours.  Don’t let your guard down; teens are manipulative creatures!

My personal favorite solution for Christmas Break Doldrums is to share time with another teen’s parents.  Send yours over to their house for a couple of days, and then return the favor.   This way they get a break from home – and you get a break from the whining.


After the Invitation (Before the Conflict)

christmas-party-invitations4Here’s an end-of-the-year refresher course to help you enjoy holiday celebrations with your teen/preteen:

Expectations 101
Go over your expectations for dress, behavior, language, and acceptable topics of conversation before a family gathering.  Don’t assume teens already know what’s appropriate.

Bubble Trouble 102
If your child is over 10, he’s living in his own bubble.  Much of what you say sounds like those adults in Charlie Brown cartoons.  After you tell him the coming week’s schedule, be prepared to tell him again.  And don’t be surprised when the day comes and he says, “Wait, what?  Nobody told me about that!”

Gratitude  103
She won’t be thinking about Grandma’s feelings when she opens Grandma’s gift and says, “Red mittens?  With my pink coat?  I don’t think so!”  It’s part of that same bubble trouble.  When it happens, don’t overreact; try a gentle reminder, like “I think you meant, ‘Thank you, Grandma,’ didn’t you?”  Or catch her alone later and explain how she hurt Grandma’s feelings, then ask how she’s going to make it right.

Cell Phone Etiquette 104
Don’t want to be looking at the top of your texting teen’s head at the party?  Discuss before you go why it’s not polite, and work with your teen to set some limits.  Instruct him to explain to his friends that he’ll be at a party and unavailable.  Try agreeing on a time – and a time limit – for checking texts: “Leave your phone in the car, and two hours after we get there, you can go out to the car and text  for 10 minutes.”  (Agree on a consequence if he stays out there too long.)

Before you leave for your holiday gatherings, spend at least as much time prepping your teen as you do deciding what to wear, and everyone will have a better time!

Mixing Generations

Handshake2This week I took my middle school choir to sing at a retirement home.  Having learned from past experience, I prepped them before we went, reminding them that nobody is born with white hair and wrinkles and walking with a cane.  I pointed out that these elderly people were once young basketball players and cheerleaders who joined choir or band and argued with their parents about chores and what clothes they could wear.

We sang some of our concert pieces and then we invited the residents to suggest Christmas carols that we could all sing together.  When someone suggested “White Christmas” and my accompanist had to admit he didn’t know it, one of my choir members piped up, “We can just sing it without the piano!”  Though some of them barely knew the words, they sang with gusto, and the audience joined in.

When we had finished, I encouraged my singers to go and wish people a Merry Christmas.  I’d warned them ahead of time about arthritic fingers, so they knew they should shake hands gently.  As they scattered around the room reaching for hands and chatting with the residents, I could see them gaining confidence and growing more comfortable around strangers many years older than themselves.

It’s not unusual for teens to say they never want to get old, or to call senior citizens “creepy,” but if we teach them to see beyond the effects of aging and connect with the person within, their discomfort can change into acceptance – or even friendship.  As with many things, we just have to provide education and opportunity.

Merry Messiness


Christmas threw up in my classroom this week.  I hauled out the boxes of ornaments and decorations, made push pins available, explained how the tree goes together, handed out strings of lights, and sat back to watch the fun .

At the end of the first day, the room was in chaos.  A stepladder stood abandoned in the middle of the room, lights drooped from the middle of one bulletin board, and the tree stood at a rakish angle.  By the end of the second day, the fussier students had straightened everything out.  Our room now glows so brightly that we can work by Christmas lights alone, and our tree is the envy of everyone who stops by.

But the best part is the sense of satisfaction in the room, the feeling of “Yeah, we did that!”  Sure, I might have draped the garland and not wrapped it around the tree, and I would have made sure the light cord fit flush against the wall instead of dangling from the board, but getting it done my way would have benefited only me.

If you’re the kind of parent who wants everything done  “just right,” you’re missing out on an opportunity to build self-confidence at a time when your preteen or teen could use it most.  Choose one or two jobs you can let go of, and let them go at it.

And please – be sure to applaud their efforts!