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How to Keep Your Teen Busy During Winter Break

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
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Holidays are supposed to be a wonderful time for the whole family. Kids are out of school. Relatives come to town. We need no excuses for eating good food, lingering too long at the table, and falling asleep in a comfortable chair at three o’clock in the afternoon. All so we can get up and do it all over again a couple of hours later.

That’s the ideal.

However, there’s a wrinkle to the holidays that you only understand once you’re a parent or the primary caregiver for growing kids. You have to fill the downtime. Families with a stay-at-home parent have to deal with this, too, of course, but it’s more challenging when one – or sometimes both – parents have to work on all the days surrounding the holidays.

You know the days we mean. First, there’s December 23rd. Next comes December 26th – December 31st, that weird week between Christmas and New Years’ Day. Then, on some years (like this year), you have to account for January 2nd and 3rd, since they fall on a Thursday and Friday. No school in the country is going to start the January term on a Thursday.

But your bosses at work, or your clients if you work independently?

They’re probably expecting you to work on those days, whether it creates a childcare conundrum for you or no.

That’s the situation.

You have days you need to cover, and you have teens.

So what do you do?

We have ideas.

Give it Structure, Keep it Fun and Enriching

Your teen needs a few days to do nothing but chill: that’s true. And they’ll have those days. But if you have a teen who’s prone to making, shall we say, questionable decisions when left to their own devices, you’ll serve both your teen and your family by adding structure to at least part of most of non-holiday days that make up most the break.

Here are our five top ideas to keep your teen busy this winter break.

  1. Service Work. Also known as volunteering, this is a practical way for your teen to put the meaning of the holiday season into action. While some families may send their teens overseas for community service programs in areas of significant need, that’s not entirely necessary. There are people who need help in every city and town in our country. You can find service opportunities in food banks, homeless shelters, churches, assisted living facilities – you name it. We recommend starting your search for volunteer opportunities here: the American Red Cross Youth and Habitat for Humanity.
  2. Camps, Tutoring, Seasonal Work. In most big cities and large towns, you can find winter break camps. They’re designed to fill exactly the void you need filled. They give you kid coverage on days when you’re at work or otherwise occupied. They may be arts camps or sports camps – it depends on where you are and what’s popular there. Winter break can also be a good time to catch up on school subject areas that may have been challenging during the fall. You can find a tutor and get a head start on the January term. In addition, plenty of seasonal work is available during December. From local boutiques to Christmas tree lots to big department stores, winter break can be a good time for your teen to get out of the house, experience a real (if temporary) job, and make some pocket money.
  3. Closets, Attics, and Garages. As in clean them out and clean them up. You and your teen may only account for – or be able to tolerate – a day or two of this. But this is a great time to get your teen to go through their belongings and decide what they need and don’t need. Then they can do the same in your attic and/or garage, if you have those. Decide what you can use, what you can throw away, and what you cand donate to a charitable cause. For you donations, start with The United Way, Goodwill, and The Salvation Army, then consider donating to local churches, shelters, or food banks. Most churches that do charitable work post seasonal donation needs on their message boards. You can find those out by the street, visible to automobile traffic. You’ve probably seen them as you go about your daily business: this year, you can take part in their efforts.
  4. Lifeguarding and/or CPR Certifications. Lifeguarding? In the middle of winter? Yes, we’re serious. You can find lifeguarding certification classes offered by The Red Cross. They also offer first aid and CPR certification classes as well. Locations are typically indoor pools at community centers, YMCAs, or other locations protected from the elements. If your teen is interested in working with younger children in the summer, then having these certifications will give them a leg up on the competition. This possible winter break idea leads perfectly into the next one, coming right up.
  5. Know What You’re Going to Do Next Summer. It is definitely not too early for you and your teen to start thinking about what they’re going to do when summer break rolls around. Parents know the challenges posed by winter break downtime are dwarfed by those posed by the epic amounts of downtime coming up in June and July. Start now, and you can have all those questions answered far ahead of time. January is when many summer camps and local pools start accepting applications for the summer season. The best jobs get snatched up quickly, which means that teens who get online, do some research, come up with a list of possible jobs, then start applying in January are ahead of the game. Imagine having your teen’s summer planned by the end of January. Most parents agree that that would be, in a word, awesome.

Make the Most of the Time Off

We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the fact that simply relaxing and taking it easy are perfectly acceptable ways to spend the entire winter break. In fact, we wager most parents and teens want to do just that. Relax, exchange gifts, eat way too much, and take naps – few would argue with spending winter break like that.

The fact is, however, that winter break doesn’t work like that for every family. If you’re going on a two-week vacation from December 20th – January 4th, then clearly these ideas don’t apply to you. But if you have gaps to fill, or you worry about those questionable decisions your teenager might make when home alone with too much time on their hands, our list can help. Filling the break with activities is a good way to make sure your worries are addressed and your teen doesn’t fall victim to their own impulses.

And while they’re busy, they may just find a passion – ie. volunteering – or they may find a summer job.

We’re sure every parent would be on board with that.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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