Wes: It's always a little disconcerting to drop in on the hardware store or big-box retailer and find myself neck-deep in the Christmas season - even before the jack-o-lanterns have found their way to the clearance aisle. We've just had our first light freeze, and yet we're pressed to ready ourselves for the holiday season. Many families may be rethinking their plans this fall due on one hand to dramatic drop in gasoline prices and on the other, a tanking economy. Which way to turn? Should we be bullish or bearish on the holidays? As always, we at Double Take advocate balance, so here's a few suggestions on how to keep the family in harmony over the next 60 days.
1. Breaks are a time of rest - especially for high school and new college students. Students have been at it for a full semester, and many are taxed to their limit. When the school bell tolls for the last time before break, teens should be forgiven for becoming one with the couch and the Xbox. Overplanning an enormous number of activities for the holidays appears on any therapist's no-no list, and it's especially true where teens are concerned. To do otherwise can move the holiday from a time of peace and reflection, to one of stress, turmoil and disappointment all around. That doesn't mean teenagers shouldn't participate in some family time. But parents should try and work these activities into the way teen lives are evolving - not simply stick to the same traditions that may (or may not) have worked over the years.
2. Include friends and girlfriends/boyfriends. Part of any break for teenagers is socializing. I realize many families have always considered holidays a special and private time. However, this year you might consider inviting a teenage friend along on a holiday trip or just over for a family gathering. This is especially effective for keeping your teen involved with activities - though you'll probably have to allow them to reciprocate. If this is a friend who hasn't had a lot of exposure to your family, try and remember not to overwhelm them. What seems fun and festive to you may be daunting to your child's new friend - especially if we're talking about a romantic partner.
3. Have a discussion very soon about holiday budgets. I realize this has been coming up here, and in every news clip on every channel everywhere all the time - but there's a reason consumer confidence is shot this season. Please consider the ramifications of running up a big credit card bill this year. If ever there was a time to discuss the wisdom of frugality, it's now. It's important not simply because of our present economy but because of your child's future, personal economy. There are increasingly few parents of teenagers who were themselves raised by Depression-era parents. I'm one of them, and it has been a very useful experience to understand how to get by on very little, even when you have a lot.
4. Don't forget to vote today. It has nothing to do with the holidays, but it's important nonetheless.
Kelly: The leaves are slowly changing. The air is becoming colder, and kids are beginning to bundle up on their way to school. At last, the holiday seasons are upon us. Although these times are typically full of holiday spirit, they can quickly switch from providing a good time to spiraling downward into a stress. Parents, siblings, loved ones, friends and families flee to local department stores vigorously searching for gifts. But as the holidays pass hardships can quickly follow. Here are my recommendations for teenagers who want to make sure the holiday season is extra special.
1. Volunteer to help your family. Whether it be raking leaves in the yard or helping make the family dinner, any help will surely be appreciated. This is a great time to spend a little extra time with your family. Utilize it. A little extra work around the house will show your family that you're thankful for all their hard work.
2. Be practical about gifts. Keep in mind that the economy is the worst in our lifetimes and money may be thin this season. Instead of asking for gifts you don't need, start thinking practically. Don't ask for something that is ridiculously expensive and will be out of style in a month. Too often I see kids my age asking for the latest hot trend and then barely even use the gift. Also, to prevent your family from going on a wild goose chase for your gift, you might mention at which stores your gifts can be found. Not only does this alleviate some stress on your parents, but it makes the process go by faster.
3. Although this is a break, use this time to help out your community. Volunteer at your local soup kitchen. Donate canned goods to the homeless. Perhaps even volunteer to shovel your neighbor's yard. Try your best to help out the less fortunate, and most importantly, share your holiday cheer.
Next week: A reader asks that we extend our discussions on teen sexuality to address issues of disease.
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.