Get Your Teen Interested in Thanksgiving (Again)

The winter holidays are upon us.

In the U.S., the six-week period between mid-November and New Year’s Day is the most publicly festive time of the year. These holidays take over normal life, more or less, and almost everyone gets involved in some way or another. Cities and towns across the country decorate their Main Streets and shopping districts to draw people out, celebrate their civic pride, foster a sense of community – and of course, to give business a boost.

If you’re like most people, the first place you notice these holidays is in the grocery store. Not five minutes after the Halloween candy goes on clearance (and you think about buying some and saving it for next year but quickly realize you’ll eat it all way before then) you start seeing Christmas decorations pop up.

Candy canes, Santa hats, and cute reindeer vie for space with heavenly angels, elves, and Frosty the Snowman.

And if you’re like most people, your first thought is this:

What about Thanksgiving?

Then you get to the produce section, notice the gourd display and the bountiful cornucopia, and think:

Okay. They didn’t forget.

You also admit to yourself that until someone writes a few dozen catchy Thanksgiving carols and give the holiday a style makeover, Christmas will always jump the line.

But you really can’t, because you have Thanksgiving to think about.

We’re here to help you with that – especially if you have a teenager in the house for whom Thanksgiving may have lost some of its luster.

Teenagers and The Holidays

Too cool for school.

Over it.

It’s all a commercial scam and you buy it hook, line, and sinker!

That may or may not be your teen what your teen thinks – and says to you – about the holidays this year.

If it’s not, then you’re lucky. You don’t need to read this post. If it is, don’t worry: it’s natural – a little skepticism about traditions is a sign of differentiation. It’s your teen learning to think for themselves, and form their own, unique opinions about things they’ve never questioned before. That’s a healthy step in their lives.

Don’t be fooled though.

Even though they may rail against them – they may even rage against them, in some cases – teenagers still need holiday traditions, whether they realize it, admit it, or not. Everyone knows holiday rituals and traditions play an important role in the lives of children, and it’s true for teens as well. For many teens, the holidays are the one time of year when they see grandparents, uncles, and cousins. Contact with the extended family helps remind them of their place in the world. They’re reminded they’re part of something bigger than their family unit. Family traditions remind them they’re connected to their extended family, and the holiday traditions themselves remind them they’re connected to society-at-large.

With all that said, how do you get a surly, cynical, or just-plain-bored teen interested in Thanksgiving?

Read on.

Thanksgiving: Tricks for Teens

Let’s cut straight to the chase: the majority of teens respond very well when parents do things to make them feel independent, responsible, and valued.

That’s where you start. The teen sense of self-importance – which is at times grossly over-inflated – is where you find and apply leverage. There are three main areas you can do this:

  1. At Home
  2. At School
  3. Out in the world.

We’ll go through each of these three areas of their lives and offer suggestions about how to use these three elements of their lives to get them involved in Thanksgiving.

At Home

  • Planning. Include them in the entire process. If family is visiting, get your teen in on the logistics– the earlier the better. This can be anything from where everyone is going to sleep to where they’re going to sit at the table for dinner. Have a teen you trust with the car? They can pick family up at the airport and run holiday-related errands.
  • The Meal. This is a big one. It can be part of the planning angle, too: get your teen in on planning the menu. These days it’s easy to find interesting, fun, and different recipes online. There are some teen-friendly cooking and recipe websites with video tutorials on everything from shopping to cleaning up after the entire event is finished: that’s right – soup to nuts, all there waiting online for the curious teen.
  • Activities. One thing some teens dread is the time surrounding the actual holiday, rather than the holiday itself. For Thanksgiving, this means the day before and after, when family is around and the holiday is in full swing, but there’s lots of free time. Your teen can find and plan day trips, fun local events, a game night at home – and don’t forget playing football out in the yard: you don’t have to be an athlete to have a good time with a little round of two-hand touch or flag football.

At School

  • Sports. Yes, we know, we know: it’s vacation time and the last thing teens want to do is hang around at school. That is, unless that’s where all their friends are, or where people they want to be friends with are.
  • Fundraising. Thanksgiving break is an ideal time for teens to organize fundraisers for their favorite club or cause. Teens can take the lead and engage local businesses, neighbors, or school administration in the process. It may not be car-wash weather, but it’s definitely a good time of year for bake sales and hot cider.
  • Tutoring. We’re not kidding. Semester finals are just around the corner. Your teen can make some extra money over the holiday, helping friends or school peers catch up on material and get in good shape for the end of the semester.

Out In the World

  • We think volunteering at a food bank or homeless shelter is the perfect way to embody the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday. It can also keep a teen busy and engaged doing something productive during their time off school. Every big city in the country has multiple options for helping those in need on Thanksgiving, and most small towns have programs that could use a hand, as well. Some families like to volunteer together on Thanksgiving, which is a great idea. On the other hand, volunteering can also a chance for a teen who may be chomping at the bit to get away from family to do just that, and make it positive at the same time. The teen can take the lead: if you let them find where they want to volunteer and plan the entire thing themselves, the teachable moments are virtually infinite.
  • A week off school means time: time which can be used cleaning rooms, cleaning out attics and garages, and deciding what to do with everything. One way to make those tasks – which let’s admit, can be onerous – more enjoyable is to give them a purpose: instead of saying “Clean out your closet,” or “Let’s get this garage back in shape,” you can say something like “Let’s go through all old belongings and decide what we want to donate to those less fortunate than we are.” Churches and charities typically post lists of needed items online or in community newsletters, but we already know what’s on most of those lists: winter clothes and food. If your teen is growing into a role of social justice activist, or simply wants to help others, this is a great way to do something that immediately helps: there are people in our country who will be cold and hungry on Thanksgiving Day, and your teen’s donation can help change that.

The Spirit of Thanksgiving

By the time we reach adulthood, we all know the story of thanksgiving we learned in grade school – though based on historical events – took place in the larger context of the colonial period of history. We also know that in the big picture, the ideas we attach to Thanksgiving are important not because of what did or didn’t happen close to three-hundred years ago, but because of what they can teach us today.

Teenagers, especially those who are or pretend to be jaded to the holidays, or voice cynicism about their commercialization, still need to be reminded of the lessons we learn from them: namely, that the things in life that matter most are the things that can’t be bought on Amazon, streamed on Hulu, or posted on Facebook or Instagram. What matters most in life is the people in our lives, starting with our family and friends. If we take the best of what Thanksgiving can offer, we start with the name implies: giving thanks for the presence of our family and friends, the fact we have a safe place to gather, and the fact we have enough food for everyone to eat. When we remind teens and ourselves of these fundamentals, we begin to teach and learn genuine gratitude, which, in the end, serves everyone well.