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Archive for Monday, December 26, 2011

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Double Take: Decide what to share about relationships before heading to family gatherings

December 26, 2011

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Miranda: Getting that week and a half off for break is something that high school students cherish. It means more time than usual with the extended family, which in turn presents a unique challenge to teens: How much do I tell my whole family about my relationships?

I’d like to start by saying that while it can be annoying when people are pestering you about your private life at the Christmas dinner table, it just means that your family cares about you. Keeping that in mind, here are some ways to handle the inevitable onslaught of prying relatives.

Decide what you want them to know ahead of time. If you have a big family and they all want to know about your new significant other, plan ahead.

Maybe your relatives knew your last boyfriend and you haven’t gotten around to telling them that you broke up. Some teens feel comfortable telling extended family about every encounter they have with every possible person of interest, while some choose to tell only about serious relationships.

Every family dynamic is different. Some teens are friends with their aunts and uncles on Facebook, and some only see their families once or twice a year. It’s ultimately your decision what they know about your love life.

Talk it over with your parents. Your parents usually know more than your aunts, uncles or grandparents. So once you’ve decided what information you want all of your relatives to know, sit down with your parents and get them on message. Be ready with some backup topics (e.g., college applications, grades, extra-curricular activities, etc.) so you can keep the conversation right where you want it.

The holiday season should be a time to relax and enjoy yourself. If you have a game plan before the big dinners or vacations, then you can focus on spending time with everyone and not about when the next question will come your way.

Dr. Wes: Think of the number of movies made about the arrival of extended family into the placid flow of daily life. Many are set around the holiday season, in fact. There’s just something really funny about people who are supposed to be just like us, yet come from a whole different culture (or planet, in some cases). So Miranda is wise to advise teens and young adults to think ahead on this.

The biggest problem with over-publicizing a relationship is expectation, and that only gets worse the older you get. By the time young people are in their late teens, Auntie Em begins to ask if a June wedding is in the plan, and Uncle Bert begins to call your b.f. “Sonnie.”

Far worse, however, are the situations where extended family members don’t like your guy or girl and feel strangely empowered to just let everyone know that, including your new love. Where parents wisely heed our advice to embrace dating partners, Grandma may be more inclined to run him out on a rail whether he deserves it or not. Her mom did it, and she just thinks it’s the right thing to do.

When considering a discussion of love, kids have to base their decision on the best estimate of how fun, embarrassing or horrifying the environment will be. If relatives are the kindly, inviting type, I think it’s nice to share more. It brings back memories of youth, and most of us are very fond of fresh stories of romance. Even better, inviting the beloved over for an evening with family gives an unparalleled test of his or her courage and ability to adapt to challenging social situations.

If, on the other hand, there’s serious worry about the impression a dating partner will make on the family, or the one they’ll make back, I say the best strategy is to SPIN. Change the subject to politics, blush and giggle, or ask the elders to share stories of their own dating life. That usually keeps the cat in the bag, and for some awkward holiday gatherings, that’s exactly where he belongs.

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is board certified in family and couples psychology (ABPP). Read about his writing and clinical practice at dr-wes.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/wescrenshawphd. Miranda Davis is a Free State High School senior. Send your 200-word confidential question about adolescence and parent

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