A Sticky Gift

As I handed out the envelopes on the last day before Christmas break, I cautioned my students, “Everybody has the same gift, so don’t open yours until everyone has theirs.  You will, however, find a personal message inside, so be sure you read it.”

They dutifully waited until I gave the word, and then the room grew quiet as they read their cards. A few looked up and grinned at me without saying anything, but one girl said, “I kind of want to cry now.”  Another girl echoed her agreement.  One student jumped to his feet and gave me a quick hug.

Inside their cards they’d found just a few specific lines about what I appreciated about them personally.  For one, it was how quickly he volunteers to help; for another, it was how hard she works to improve.  I told one that while some days he makes me crazy, his sense of humor always makes me laugh.  And I told another that even though she still has loud days, I appreciate how hard she is working to be more quiet.

I wrote 29 cards this year, but I’m pretty sure you have fewer teens than that in your life.  What if you took the time to write a few thoughtful, meaningful words and give it to them?  You don’t have to be eloquent; just mention one or two qualities or actions that you appreciate.

It’s a gift that will stick with them long after the gift cards are spent and the electronics are obsolete, and one that could make a real difference on those days when they feel unlovable.

Christmas in Adolescence

grIt may sound like a Hallmark movie, but anyone who’s experienced Christmas in Adolescence with an adolescent knows the mushy, feel-good happy ending isn’t likely to happen.  For some, just having a non-UNhappy ending would be nice.

If you’ve got the teen who hugs herself and gushes, “I just love Christmas!” then you’re among the blessed.  But some teens are more like my son at 16 who complained about listening to Christmas music, refused to part with a penny of his own money for gifts, and on Christmas morning seemed uninterested in any of his presents (which had been carefully chosen by his loving mother).  How can you keep moody teens from ruining the holiday for everyone else?

First off, you can’t change the attitude.  If they’re choosing to be difficult, they’re going to hang on with all their might, leaving you two options: ignore the prickliness and pretend they’re happy, or excuse them from the festivities.  A direct confrontation would only make everyone tense.

Secondly, have a little compassion.  It’s a transitional time; middle school often marks a big change in how Christmas (often disguised as Winter) is celebrated at school.  The magic and wonder of childhood Christmases is waning, and they’re trying to figure out what’s considered too childish at their age and what’s still acceptable.

One way to encourage a little Christmas spirit is to steer their focus away from themselves.  Get them involved in baking, wrapping (messy packages are okay), addressing Christmas cards, or being helpful to someone in need.  Secret Santa deliveries to neighbors or relatives can give them warm feelings while teaching the virtue of generosity.

Like the Grinch, adolescents need to learn that Christmas isn’t about their own happiness.  Christmas – perhaps – means something more. . .

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!

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!


Thanksgiving Strategies

Hopefully, you’ll have a turkey at your Thanksgiving dinner – and it won’t be your own offspring.

Teens can be notorious for making holidays challenging – by being silly, or sulky, or just plain antisocial.  Here are a few tips to help things run more smoothly:

1. Discuss expectations.  Going to a relative’s house?  Having the relatives in?  Either way, tell your teens  beforehand what you want from them, whether it’s helping out with the housecleaning (or cooking or clean-up), or  entertaining Grandma or younger children.  It’s an awkward stage of life, and teens don’t always know what their roles are.

2. Agree on dress code.  If your family dresses up for holidays, talk to your teens about what they should wear, but be prepared to compromise.  You could give in on the shorter skirt but insist on a modest top, or allow jeans but with a dress shirt.  As long as it’s nicer than everyday wear, teens can pull it off.

3. Talk about table manners.  You taught them these when they were younger, but it’s a good idea to review the basics.  Knowing which fork to use isn’t as important as trying new foods when you’re a guest, or learning to refuse politely.  If elbows off the table and napkins in laps matter to you, then say so.

4. Comment on the positive.  Before you go (or guests arrive), take time to thank your teen for being on time or dressing appropriately.  After it’s all over, point out one thing that went well, such as chatting with the grown-ups or helping clear the table.  Parents are quick to criticize but not as quick to compliment.

When you’re counting your Thanksgiving blessings, remember to count your teens.  And don’t forget to let them know!