It’s the Holiday Season and most people are excited and feeling overwhelmed too. Teenagers are very excited about Winter Break. They have no school for at least two weeks and are looking forward to staying up late, sleeping in and spending times with friends. However, many parents are not so excited about Winter Break. Most parents have to work full time so they are concerned about what their teenager will be doing while they are working and there are some family activities planned which means their teenager cannot spend all of the break with friends. Therefore, parents are starting to wonder how to handle this situation so Winter Break is enjoyable for everyone.
It might help parents, to have a better understanding of how their teenagers look at Winter Break. In their minds, they have spent a great deal of extra time during December studying for midterms, finals and completing final projects. They have had to give up some time with friends and there were several nights they had to stay up late studying. Therefore, they feel they are entitled to sleep in and spend time with their friends. Additionally, a number of juniors and seniors have friends who will be returning from their first year at college. Therefore, Winter Break is the only time they have to spend with them. Again, they feel entitled to the time because they spent a lot of extra time studying so they are entitled to some free time. Another factor is that many teenagers consider some of the family activities scheduled to be boring compared to hanging out with friends.
Now parents can just say this is what you will be doing over Winter Break because we are your parents. This will result in a great deal or arguing and teenagers sneaking off to spend time with friends. This approach is not very effective and results in a great deal of unhappiness for parents and teenagers. Winter Break feels like a prison sentence not anything to celebrate.
I recommend sitting down with all your children and developing a plan for Winter Break. First explain how you envision the break going and the activities you have planned and want your children to participate in. Explain to them why you want them to participate in these activities and what it means to you. Next let your teens discuss what plans they had for break and why these plans are important to them. This allows you and your teenagers to discuss everyone’s plans and a solution that will work for everyone. Remind your teenager that your daily expectations regarding vaping, alcohol and their over all behavior still apply. You are not setting up new house rules. You are simply setting up a schedule for Winter Break.
As for the days, I recommend setting a time they need to up by such as 10:30am. This gives them time to sleep but not sleep the day away. Also leave a couple chores they can help with when they get up. Such as cleaning up their own dishes and maybe cleaning the kitchen or doing some laundry or putting some clothes away. After that they can spend time with their friends. Ask them to tell you what they plan on doing the night before and ask them to check in by text at certain times. Also agree on a time they need to be home. During the week maybe require they are home three nights a week for a family dinner. The other nights and weekends, they can have dinner with friends or bring a friend home for dinner. Whatever they do, they need to tell you before, check in occasionally by text and be home by a certain time. As for bed time don’t spend a great deal on that one. Allow them to go to bed when they want as long as they are able to get up by the agreed upon time. If they miss getting up on time 3 times in a row, then you set a bed time. This is only for teens in high school. For children in middle school and elementary school, you need to set a bed time.
As you are coming up with these agreements, you are also writing them down on a contract that everyone will sign and get a copy to keep. Therefore, if there is a misunderstanding, you just refer back to the contract. You also should agree upon consequences if someone violates the contract and include them in the contract.
Now the big issue to confront, how much evening time your teen will spend with friends and what activities you have planned that they will attend. This is not easy. I usually suggest if the activity is a big family activity including extended family or a family tradition then your teenager needs to attend. Depending on the activity may be the can bring a friend or leave early. As for time with their friends, ask what they have planned and see how it fits into the family schedule. Most often teenagers won’t know their plans yet because they need to talk to their friends. Therefore, give them time to talk to their friends and add their events to the calendar. One important thing to remember, your teenagers are becoming young adults and need their social time too. Therefore, try to be flexible with them. If it is a family event, they definitely should be present and participate. If it is a community event or neighborhood party, it is probably fine to allow them to miss it and spend time with their friends.
As for the time they spend with friends, it is fine to require that they tell you what they will be doing and where they will be. Setting a time to be home is appropriate too. Also it is fine to ask them to check in by text too. One thing you may consider is setting up an activity with your teenager and their friends so you can spend time with them and see how they are maturing. If you decide to try doing an activity with your teen and their friends, only do it if your teenager is agreeable and allow them to plan the activity.
Remember, everything you agree to with your teenager, you will write down in your Winter Break contract. Everyone will sign it and get a copy so if there is a misunderstanding you simply refer back to the contract.
Finally, let your teenager know you are aware that they are getting older and they are starting to have social lives of their own and this is why you are having this discussion. Explain that hopefully this will help eliminate fighting over their break, but nothing is perfect. Therefore, issues may come up that you have not discussed. Ask, if an issue does occur, that everyone tries to discuss it remembering you all have the same goal of everyone enjoying the holiday. Hopefully if you keep this in mind and discusses any issues that occur it can be a happy holiday break for everyone.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating teenagers and children. For more information regarding his work or private practice visit his website http://www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 aa