It’s a tale as old as time – when children are young, Christmas is an exciting time for families. Children eagerly anticipate long-held traditions and love being at the center of the action. Game nights, cookie decorating, sing-a-longs; children are the most active participants in all the family bonding fun!

But then adolescence hits, and you barely recognize this reclusive teen that you have to beg to join family activities they used to love. Mentioning the words “family bonding” pretty much produces an eye-roll these days. They prefer spending time in their room with their headphones on or going out with friends. You miss those easy days when your child believed in Santa and couldn’t wait to decorate the tree. 

But just because they don’t seem excited about the activities from their childhood doesn’t mean you can no longer connect. Family bonding doesn’t have to end, it may just look a little different. Let’s get started on some of our top family bonding tips for families with teenage children.

Give Them a Minute

Going from a hectic school schedule to unstructured vacation time can be disorienting for young people, even if they can’t quite put it into words. You may find their moods to be unpredictable and their sleep schedule even more so. Give them a couple of days to find their feet. Invite them to join you for some low-key family time, like an Elf movie viewing or a drive around the neighborhood to see some Christmas lights. However, don’t force the issue if they’re not up for it.

Set Fair Technology Expectations

Most teens have cell phones. That’s a fact. They use these phones in a variety of ways, some of which we may not like or understand. Phones are often used to connect to their peer group and to relationships that feel vital to their own emotional wellbeing. It’s ok to set boundaries with them, such as no cell phones at the dinner table, but make these expectations clear (and reasonable) beforehand. Try to get buy-in from your teen. Most of all, practice what you preach!

Living in a Winter Wonderland

Teens often have very strong opinions on what decor is up to date. Enlist their ideas and give them free rein in certain rooms in the house. Make sure you don’t second guess their ideas, even if you have to curtail their budget a little.

Schedule the Holiday Spirit

While adolescents often prefer spending time with their peers than with their younger siblings, it’s ok to expect them at some family events. Sit down with them and set up a schedule that works for everyone. When you respect and validate what’s important to them, they are much more likely to be open to family fun and what is important to you.

Harness Their Holiday Creativity

They may not be as interested in decorating gingerbread houses as they used to be (or maybe they are!), but there are family activities that can be engaging and fun for everyone. Ask the whole family to plan one activity each and commit to doing each and every one. Think about their special interests and try to plan an activity that includes it, such as making a family Tik-Tok or going to the skate park together.

Family Bonding is Connection, Not Content

The more your teens are involved in planning the scheduling and content of your family bonding activities, the more likely they’ll participate. They may not always be activities that are traditional in your family, but the point is connection, not content. Look for ways to connect with the most important people in your life, and you’ll keep the holiday cheer alive.

Are you looking for more support as you navigate the holiday as parents? Do you have a teen with mental health or substance use issues? Reach out to Other Parents Like Me for a free 7-day trial and discover support from parents who have walked that journey too.