Christmas is a time of heightened emotion for everyone.
We tear up at Christmas TV adverts that we watched as children, we hug our families extra tight if we haven’t seen them in a while or have experienced illness during the year and we embrace the feelings of warmth and cosiness that come with decorations, food and gestures associated with the festive season.
However, for teenagers, Christmas can be something different entirely. No longer children and not quite adults, they can balk at the notion of so much family time together and feel pressure to ‘keep up’ with the seemingly perfect holiday their peers are having on social media.
If they are feeling trapped or frustrated with life, they can feel attacked by well-meaning relatives who try to draw them out of their shell.
To help keep the peace with the teenagers in your life this Christmas, avoid saying any of the following to them:
1. “Have you got a boyfriend/girlfriend?”
If they have something they want to tell you about their love life, let it come up naturally in conversation. Asking them directly puts them on the spot. At best, they will feel a bit awkward and embarrassed.
At worst, the question could remind them of someone they’ve recently broken up with, an unrequited crush, the fact that they have never been in a relationship or trigger worry about the fact that they are questioning their sexuality.
2. “Have you gained/lost weight?”
Whether you think you are complimenting them or giving them constructive criticism, commenting on a teenager’s weight is never a good idea.
You have no idea what they might be dealing with or how they have achieved the physique they have. If it’s by starvation or purging, your praise and admiration will justify their methods of weightloss. Similarly, if you’re implying that their weight is detracting from their appearance, they’ll just feel bad about themselves and could embark on harmful behaviour to change it.
3. “What do you want to do in college?”
The last thing a teenager needs over Christmas is someone questioning them about their studies. They’re on their holidays!
They may not want to go to college at all. They might have an idea for a start-up. They might want to travel before settling down. Thanks to ever-changing technology, their dream job may not even exist yet! Don’t pressure teens to pigeon-hole themselves too early in life. Ask them what they enjoy doing in their spare time or what their hobbies are and the conversation will flow much more smoothly!
4. “Get up there and give us a song!”
Being a teenager can be an excruciatingly awkward time in a person’s life. Your body is developing, your face is dealing with hormonal changes and sometimes, all you want is to fade into the background.
So, being asked to stand up and perform in front of a roomful of people is a nightmare!
Just because a person loved to sing, dance or show off their talents as a child doesn’t mean they want to do it right now as a teenager. If there is a singsong or a talent showcase happening, ask them quietly if they’d like to take part and if they say no thanks, respect their decision.
5. “Relax, don’t be so sensitive!”
Different generations will have different opinions on things. It’s fine to agree to disagree but it’s not okay to dismiss or mock someone for their beliefs.
Even if you think they are over-reacting to something you’ve said, telling them to ‘relax’ is like waving a red flag at a bull and will only serve to make things worse. Instead of fobbing them off, ask them why they feel that way and give them space to explain their reaction if they want to.
6. “Why can’t you be more like (your sibling/cousin/so-and-so’s child?)”
Comparing a teenager unfavourably to someone else can only end in hurt feelings. It’s counter-productive and if a teen isn’t confident in themselves, it can foster negativity, self-doubt and jealousy in them.
They have their own personality, their own thoughts and feelings about things so being like someone else to suit you would mean they weren’t being true to who they really are.
7. “What’s your problem?”
Just saying this out loud sounds like you’ve already run out of patience and are spoiling for a fight. It’s confrontational and immediately raises the other person’s hackles so that a calm conversation is generally out of the question.
Remember, you’re the adult in the room and you need to do your best to maintain the peace. If your teen is really trying your patience, take a few minutes to yourself to calm down and see if you can approach things differently on your return.