Welcome to the official start of the holiday season, full of the joys of togetherness to be experienced with family and friends—and, yes, teenagers. Thanksgiving break gives a much needed rest for students who have had little reprieve until now, providing respite before the pressure of finals.
Teenagers and togetherness can be tough, though, particularly during the holiday season. A few years ago around this time, I had the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with one of our boys who, by a turn of fate or choice, was missing out on a privilege. This brought about the classic predicament of a teenager struggling to deal with a hard thing, a conflict that can quickly derail any family holiday.
As parents, we have a lot to say, and sometimes we feel frustrated by our kids’ seeming inability to listen. Other times, our kids are the ones who have a lot to say, especially when things get hard. Though my kids are older, even recently, I have been tempted to remove obstacles because they became uncomfortable. What started as compassion for their situation slowly morphed into temptation to provide relief.
After continued discussion with my teenagers (and some hand-wringing), I changed my course.
The saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” still stands. During one particularly difficult situation, I reached out to my father who listened patiently for a while, and then he asked, “So, why is there so much complaining?”
My thoughts exactly.
Learning to do hard things is part of growing up, and this bit of education can be especially important for teenagers during the holiday season. Hard things include dealing with an unfair situation at school or on a team, encountering failure, becoming frustrated with a task, or being held accountable for a mistake.
When we struggle, we become stronger. If obstacles are continually removed, the can is kicked down the road, only for the lesson in resilience to be delayed. In fact, this teaches our kids that we believe they cannot do something, are dependent on us, and need to be bailed out.
If you’re like me, you may be thinking, “But what about _______ (grades, opportunity, feelings)?” Those are all important, but kids learning to find their next gear trumps them all. In order for teenagers to learn to deal with these challenges in the long-term, they must understand this type of independence and perseverance when encountering hard things.
You never know what can come of a good boundary or consequence. That’s the tough part of parenting. If your kids are like mine, finding an agreeable activity, especially when a consequence is in play, can pose quite the challenge. Fortunately, it can sometimes be solved by the film industry.
Without seeking agreement, I purchased tickets for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a choice guided by childhood experience and desperation for something positive. One hour and forty-nine minutes can do wonders for a relationship with a teenager.
As Paul Asay writes in his review, “Many a movie will make you laugh or cry or think. But very few make you want to be a better person.” (Plugged In, 2019). Adults, including me, have as much to learn as children do about how we interact with those around us.
If I remember correctly, I cried through 50% of the movie, but I learned that:
Gentleness changes tone;
Kindness is the key to bring out the good in each of us.
Growing up can be intense. Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and in this case, a moving picture spoke all of those words for the conversation between me, my teenager, and hard things.
This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for:
- Movies that can turn a lemons into lemonade;
- The opportunity to show kids what they’re capable of;
- The privilege to walk alongside you and your students to support you in your journey.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season.
Rachael & the Effective Students Team
P.S. We are here if you need to put your oxygen mask on first.