Hello, PATH parents!
Somehow we have muscled our way through the very long and trying year of 2020 and have arrived to December! This is a month that we and our teens typically look forward to, with its holiday break from school, special parties with family and friends, and meaningful activities that are only done during this time of year. Perhaps you have been wondering if, due to certain dynamics your family is facing as part of this chaotic year in history, the holidays will really be the same.
The truth is that they may not be the same. However, they can still be a very precious time with your family, an opportunity to give your teenagers a feeling of normalcy that they haven’t felt in a while.
Our family has had a challenging year with a major move, new jobs for my husband and me, a new community, and new schools for our teens. In this whirlwind of new, my husband also had a significant health event. How did my teens cope?
While my husband and I were at the emergency room, my teens surprised us by pulling out all our holiday décor and completely decorating the house for Christmas! Yes, it was the weekend BEFORE Thanksgiving, but my teens explained that it felt so great to crank the Christmas music, get busy, and bring some much needed Christmas cheer to our lives.
Traditions are powerful! They are an anchor in our teenagers’ lives that assures them that some things are constant. Even when life seems a bit uncertain, some things can be counted upon to stay the same.
I encourage you to enjoy as many holiday traditions as you can this year. Even if you can just do one or two meaningful things that you normally do with your teenagers this time of year, it counts!
This year can also be one for starting new traditions. Perhaps instead of the typical family outing you normally do, this year you have a game night at home. Or rather than going out for family bowling, you challenge each other on the Wii gaming system instead. Maybe this is the year that you finally pull out Grandma’s beloved recipes and bake some fun desserts together!
Your teens don’t need a mound of gifts under the tree this year as much as some set-aside time with you. They need some special moments that reassure them that there is still plenty to be grateful for and that everything is going to be okay. Truthfully, we as parents could use those special moments, too!
Happy Holidays from all of us here at PATH! May the end of 2020 be the sweetest part of this year for you and your family!
I wouldn’t call myself a Scrooge, but I am certainly not known for being the most festive person in my friend group or family. I’ve always liked decorating the tree, wrapping gifts, and eating special cookies around this time of year. I have not been, however, the person who decorates that tree as soon as possible, or who goes mad on Black Friday, or who even has a particular knack for baking good cookies. Many years, I regret to say it, the holiday spirit felt like another chore to check off. Instead of feeling like a break or a celebration, some tasks felt like obligations that got performed almost robotically and hurriedly so I could get back to finals at Purdue, or start the job search and refocus on my next steps. It being the end of the year always gave my holiday season a sense of urgency that I couldn’t push from my mind for very long before feeling like my December was putting my January at risk of failure.
This year has been different. My family got our tree early and it wasn’t a hassle to find the time to do so. I discovered a treasure trove of ribbons in the attic and have already expertly wrapped several carefully chosen gifts. Best of all possibly, I am already dog-earring recipes from my grandma’s old books to begin practicing with. I can tell I am not the only one with an invigorated sense of the season; my neighbors had their lights up and brighter than ever by mid November. My mind is split in a million more directions than it ever has been, but somehow that seems to have been the push that got me to slow down this year. What helped the most was probably letting go of the idea of expectations. There is no pressure to do things perfectly this year, considering so much is outside of my control. It will be a holiday season unlike any other but while much of that is due to outside circumstances, we still have control over at least some of how we make this season special. My family has agreed to make this the year of simple pleasures; we will grow in our gratefulness for that which we so often overlook. We cook together more often. We share more stories and take the time to listen well. We pay attention to the details around us.
It is easy to dwell on all that we will miss this year - I won’t even begin to list them. That feeling of loss is entirely valid, but I cannot allow it to overwhelm my gratitude for this new perspective opportunity. Instead of commiserating each night about what we would have been doing, I want to celebrate what we have discovered this year that we were too busy to notice in years past. Being forced to slow down has truly humbled me this season. While my long term goals are worthy of my time, I must also remember to take a step back and appreciate what is right in front of me.
Hello, PATH parents!
From the minute our kids are born, we find ourselves confronted by various (and often complex) Parent Dilemmas. We must decide on vaccines, sugar, timeouts, pre-K, video games, YouTube choices...The list goes on and on. Obviously, these are topics that don’t have to be binary, yes or no, but must be carefully considered regarding how much and how soon. Sometimes the dilemmas are so plentiful, figuring out and then doing “the right thing” for our kids gets a bit overwhelming!
When our kids become teenagers, another Parent Dilemma looms before us: Social Media. Truthfully, most of us parents feel great pressure to allow our teens to use social media. First of all, teens love it! It’s fun, easy to use, and a major way that teens connect with peers these days. However, if we’re honest, our yes to our teens using social media is often more about us not wanting our kids to be the weird ones, the only ones who don’t have Instagram or Snapchat. We don’t want our teens left out of meaningful connections with friends or to be teased by other teens that they are out of touch with technology or teen culture.
We also want our teens to be able to understand and enjoy the good parts of modern technology so they can seamlessly move into college or the workforce after graduation. Furthermore, allowing them to learn proper social media use under our parental guidance seems wiser than forbidding it until adulthood (when inexperienced mistakes have even more real-world consequences).
This is such an important and relevant topic that Netflix recently released a docu-drama titled The Social Dilemma, in which major players in the tech industry (creators and engineers at big media companies like Facebook and Google) weigh in on the unintended consequences (and dangers, really) of social media and how it is genuinely negatively affecting teens today.
The film explores some dynamics that, if true, really should get our attention as parents and cause us to rethink that “how much” and “how soon” we referenced earlier. (For example, the film highlights the marked and steady increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide rates for teenagers upon the introduction of social media to society.) If the engineers and creators of this technology do NOT allow their own children to use it or do not allow their own children to use it until ages 14 or 15, then it benefits us to evaluate why and to look at how social media might be negatively affecting our own teens right now.
While I do not have the resources to fact-check every assertion made or every bit of research cited in that docu-drama, it is a valuable film to watch. We watched it as a family in our home and had great discussions during and afterward, and my teens made some new decisions regarding their own social media use (without my husband or I asking them to do so). They made these decisions out of their own convictions of what was best for them.
One of the best lessons we can teach our teens is to personally “own” their lives, to choose for themselves to do what is best for them in the long run. That involves continually evaluating what they want to give their time and attention to, what they want to use or to avoid on the path to accomplishing their dreams. Our teens must be reminded of the following: It is not enough to have dreams; you have to make daily choices on life’s journey that actually lead you to the life you want.
Naturally, we also must teach our teens that moderation is key. For example, to live a healthy lifestyle, sugar does not have to be completely abandoned; it just should be a balanced addition to your diet and not a major food group! In the same way, social media might not have to be completely avoided; it simply needs to be understood in ALL of its dynamics and then used in a dosage and way that actually benefits your life.
I hope this has inspired you to investigate the social media in your teen’s life and to make adjustments that make the most sense for your family. Be encouraged that we are all trying to get this right as parents, and if we realize that things need to change at any point, great! That’s what being a good parent is all about: learning as we go and making the best choices we can for our teens along the way. Life in the technological age can be a wild ride, but it’s an exciting and good one when we’re intentional.
Have a wonderful week investing in your amazing teens! You can do it!
A Positive Approach to Teen Health (P.A.T.H) is a 501(c)3 organization that reaches seven counties throughout Northwest Indiana. Since 1993, A Positive Approach to Teen Health has been working to empower teens to make healthy choices regarding drugs, sex, alcohol, and violence.