What Are You Teaching Your Teens About Holiday Behavior?

12/20/2012 11:25 am ET | Updated Feb 19, 2013
  • Barbara Greenberg Clinical Psychologist featured on CNN, Good Morning America and ABC Nightline

It starts something like this: You go to a relative's house for the holidays. Soon, the adults start to drink a little, lose their inhibitions and start to regress to their younger selves. Yes, you start acting like you did during your teen years and start to tell old stories. Oh no, you have forgotten that your teenage children are in the room hearing the stories of what mom and dad were up to during those years. And, maybe you wanted to tell those stories to your teens in a different way, with less detail or not at all. YIKES. The cat is already out of the bag.

The lesson here is that your teenagers are developing a holiday blueprint for how to act during the holidays by watching you, their parents. We know that they are always observing parents who are their best teachers. Generally, holidays are festive occasions and we share good cheer, good vibes and good energy with our relatives. On the other hand, we have to watch for some other less than positive things that happen when extended families get together during the holidays.

Let me review a few potential scenarios:

1. You have always played second fiddle to your older sister during your own teen years. So, this year during Christmas dinner, you do two things to get back at her. You let your parents know how invisible they made you feel and you become provocative toward your sister and your parents who are, of course, your teenagers' grandparents. You have just taught a not so nice lesson in how to deal with an old grudge and how to deal with it during the holidays.

2. You start comparing the teenage cousins to one another in terms of grades, talents, colleges accepted into, etc. Why not? You always felt compared to your cousins who are the parents of your kids' cousins. Way to go. You are not only teaching competitiveness but you are probably also teaching these cousins to feel rivalry and some animosity toward one other.

3. After drinking a bit you start gossiping about relatives who aren't there. Oh dear. You have just taught your teens that holidays and gossip go hand in hand.

4. You ignore the relatives that you never really liked. Why break an old pattern? You know what you will be teaching your teens here? You will be teaching them mean-spirited behavior and bullying. After all, ignoring is a form of bullying,right? Remember how you felt in middle and high school when peers may have ignored you? Well, you are teaching your teens right here in the middle of the holidays that this form of bullying is okay. I know that that is not really what you want to teach so be mindful of this sort of behavior and be inclusive rather than exclusive.

5. You overeat and start calling yourself fat. Or your husband overeats and you start calling him fat. Here, too, you are teaching a form of bullying and self-deprecation. Don't do it. Sometimes less is more.


6. You have a perfectly good time exchanging gifts and all. On the way home, however, you demean these gifts. Here you are teaching that it is the value and not the spirit of the gifts that is important. Think twice before doing this. It is simply not worth it.

This year during Christmas, please think about the holiday blueprint that you are setting up for your teens. You are after all teaching them how to act during the holidays, which with good health and good luck, they will be celebrating for years to come.

Take it from me. I've been at all sorts of holiday dinners where a number of these things have happened and nobody benefits.

Happy Holidays!