We spent the afternoon cleaning and decluttering our elderly friend’s kitchen. My two teenage sons carried trash bags out throughout the afternoon until we eventually found the kitchen counters.
As we piled into the car after the exhausting afternoon, one of the boys said, “That was a lot of work, but she really needed the help. I think she appreciated it.”
The other said, “I’m sorry I had a bad attitude going into this. We really made a difference for her. I think it’s the best Christmas present she might get this year.” I smiled and thought, I think this experience might be the best Christmas present you boys get this year!
The holidays can bring out the “gimmes” in all of us. Add to that marketing mayhem, teenage hormones and a focus on “what do you want for Christmas?” and our teens will naturally lean toward receiving rather than giving.
How can we help our teens focus more on others during the holidays? Here are six strategies my husband and I found helpful:
Let them help someone from start to finish
Every year our church has a child sponsorship opportunity. Cut-out names hang from a tree where you can select a child to shop for during Christmas. It’s much easier for me to pick a name, shop for a present and wrap it. It was much more effective for my teens to each pick a name and do their own shopping and wrapping. And if your family can deliver the gifts together, it’s a bonus to see firsthand the joy of giving to others who have much less than you do.
Ask them what they plan to give
Sometimes we send unintentional messages without realizing it. From a young age, we encourage kids to make Christmas lists. They sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want. And they look forward to opening the presents under the tree with their name on them. As parents, we can help to change that by simply changing the dialogue we have with our kids about gifts! We can ask them what they plan to give, not what they hope to get.
Help them think outside the box
Talk about the needs around them: neighbors, friends, grandparents and siblings. Can they give one gift that doesn’t have to be wrapped in red and green paper but would mean a lot to a loved one? This teaches our teens to pay attention to details and consider what’s important or might bring joy to others.
Encourage them to budget for giving
When teens get a job, they need a parent to help them learn how to manage their money. We helped our kids create a paycheck worksheet that they used to set priorities and decide in advance how they would divide their money once it was earned. Of course tithing and saving were at the top of the list, but setting aside a portion of each paycheck for Christmas giving made the cut, too. It might just be $5 a paycheck, but over a year that becomes a robust Christmas budget for a teen!
Bake holiday treats to give away
Brainstorm with your teens who they think would be blessed by your holiday baking. Then make it a family affair to bake, decorate, package up, and deliver the goodies.
Talk frequently about the reason for the season
It’s easy to get wrapped up in Christmas crazy and forget what the season is really about. When you pray before meals, thank God for the gift of His Son. When you shop for an Angel Tree gift together, remind your teen that we give to others because God first gave Jesus to us. Teens don’t respond to lectures as well as they do to casual conversation. Ask God to show you natural opportunities to talk about the real reason for Christmas.
Our teens grow more independent every day, but they still need us to lead them. The holidays are a great time to do that. My boys weren’t excited about helping out our elderly friend, but I knew their hearts needed the experience.
Jill Savage is the co-author of No More Perfect Kids: Love your kids for who they are.