Saturday, December 11, 2010

Can You Afford Time for Christmas?

Guest post by Roger McIntire, Ph.D.

Thanksgiving opened the starting gate for the Christmas rush. You might think we are a tad early, but, even if you don’t have teenagers who have started dropping hints, the ads on TV and the decorations in the mall will convince you the Christmas shopping season has begun.

Electronic gadgets, phones, CDs and games will be high on the kids’ list, but we adults will have misgivings about adding to the temptations of a keyboard that only exercises the thumb and forefingers.

Maybe it is the mindless or violent nature of many electronic games on those tiny screens that is most disturbing. If you’re searching for ideas for a 12-18-year-old transfixed by cool iPhones, motorcycles and reckless driving, there are gifts that might lure him or her away from zapping Klingons and wrecking cars.

I don’t remember many of my Christmas presents of my Chicago teenage years. “Stuff” doesn’t stay in memory too well. I do remember my Aunt Emily’s habit of giving “outings.” Since she was short on money, a note in her card would say, “Good for lunch and one trip to the Museum of Science and Industry.” Another year, she added a note on the inside that said, “We have a date for a day at the Museum of Art and a walk by the lake (Michigan) with lunch.”

Before I was 12, I wasn’t good at hiding my initial disappointment, but the trips were one-on-one situations that came to be the only gifts I remember clearly. When I was 14, my Uncle Harold took up the idea, and we had lunch and a tour of the college from which he graduated. It was a one-on-one experience, away from parents and siblings. Later I graduated from there, and it changed my life.

None of my extended family had much money, and the “giving time” idea became a family tradition. My Aunt Manila, a farmer, took me to the Chicago stock yards when I was 15. She took my brother to a chicken-rendering plant. Both of her nephews were vegetarians for a long time after that.

So what can a parent get as the “right” gift? For the boxes under the tree, I’m afraid we’re all stuck with guessing. But a parent’s best gift can be a positive model to follow.

When the kids are doing the giving, parents shouldn’t miss their chance to model gratitude. Teens are more likely to take you literally, so reactions to homemade gifts such as, “What in the world is this?” or “You shouldn’t have used all that glue,” can hurt. “Thank you” is always the most appropriate reaction to any gift.

Here are some other holiday “gifts” that I have heard from parents:

1. Put aside, every day, more time for listening without an agenda of criticism or advice.

2. Make sure, every day, that the children know that you not only love them, but you like them -- that they have many capabilities and likable characteristics. “I love you” without “I like you” is not much.

3. Make yourself more healthy not only to ensure that you will be there as they grow up, but also as a model for careful diet, exercise, and control of bad habits.

4. Give over more responsibility to the children so the child-rearing moves along toward adult-rearing.

How will my children and yours learn to celebrate Christmas? Will the focus be on forgettable gifts, TV, and the big game? Or can we keep the attention on the truly valuable parts of Christmas and setting a good example of appreciation and gratitude?

After the shreds of gift wrapping are scattered, your gift of time and admiration will be remembered all year long -- even if your teen’s attention at the moment is on the “stuff.”

Copyrighted 12/10 by Roger McIntire, Ph.D., author of Raising Your Teenager: 5 Crucial Skills for Moms and Dads and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times ( and four other parenting books. McIntire is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Maryland, where he taught for 32 years. An award-winning columnist, McIntire shares his wisdom in the Martinsburg (WV) Journal and other publications. He has also served, since 1990, as the corresponding editor for parent-visitors to many websites, including, The Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies’ website.

1 comment:

  1. I thought this was a great article! Thank you for sharing. I've forwarded it on to my parents.


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