It’s Christmas Eve and you’re expecting your daughter home by 10PM, it’s 1AM and you haven’t gotten a phone call or a text from your teen. During her winter break, she has spent most of her time away from home, “hanging out” with friends, often late and continually beyond curfew. Her friends aren’t a positive influence, and you worry about how much time she is spending with them, particularly the boys.
She did poorly in school last semester. You don’t have the reports yet, but you’re fairly certain she failed half her midterms. She can’t stand talking about it, and every time you try to calmly sit down with her and ask her about it, she yells and stomps off. When she is home, she locks herself up in her room, her face buried in her phone or computer. She’s angry and rages any time you ask her to do anything, especially when you ask her to participate in any family activities. She verbally abuses her siblings and treats them poorly, and she’s never where she’s supposed to be when she has an appointment. You’re always asking yourself, “Where is she?”
On Christmas morning you still have not heard from your daughter. You’ve been up all night. You consider calling the police, but you know this is not the first time this has happened. The last time she did this, she stole your car and took it out for the night. You breathe a sigh of relief as a car pulls into your driveway, your daughter gets out. You stand behind the front door, waiting for her to enter. You wonder why, of all the days of the year, it’s Christmas morning, and you’re about to have another very painful, very memorable moment with your daughter.
The Holidays are Mentally and Emotionally Stressful for Struggling Teens, and They Often Don’t Know How to Handle The Stress They Are Experiencing
The holidays can bring out the worst in teens who are struggling. Take a moment to look back on your last few holiday seasons , Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas — how have they been for your teen and your family? If your holidays seem to be the times when your teenager’s behavior is at its worst, you can rest assured you are not alone. Your teenager’s behaviors during the holidays are a pretty good indicator of his or her current mental and emotional state.
The most likely reality is that your teen gathers up and stores an unbearable level of stress as a result of the combination of downtime from school and the social activity of the holiday season. In this stress-filled state, thinking clearly quickly becomes a secondary consideration. Unfortunately, the emotional stress of the holidays, family gatherings, social outings, and the prospect of immense boredom can send teens who are struggling over the edge. Other hard times for them may include big events like weddings, vacations, travel, and family visits from out of town.
The result may be what at first glance seems like incredibly provocative behavior. Parents might see their teenager disappear for a day, or they could suddenly learn that their child is involved in drugs or alcohol due to an incident, or they might see a string of lies and excuses woven by their teen begin to collapse under its own weight. Or their teen might show up on their front doorstep on Christmas morning after being out all night, their pupils dilated, their hair a mess, and their face pale.
My point here is not to encourage you that "it will get better" if you can just hold out and make it through the holiday season. Rather, if your teen is struggling with self-destructive behaviors during the holidays, then, in my humble opinion, they probably need to get help sooner rather than later. The direction in which they are headed can only end poorly. They will most likely either be emotionally and physically scarred for the rest of their life from the self-destructive behaviors in which they decide to participate, or they will end up confined in place they do not want to be, or worse.
A Useful Analogy
Think of it like a fever. For humans, a fever indicates some sort of illness in the body. A low-grade fever will usually pass in time, but a raging fever is life-threatening, and needs attention immediately. Much like a fever, inappropriate behavior is a visible, physical indicator of the internal health of your child. When the behavior escalates, you have visible, concrete proof of a need for serious attention.
You will need to ask yourself, “If my son or daughter were to die tomorrow, what will I wish I had done?” Unfortunately, we have spoken with one too many families who did not act in time to help their teen. The holidays are meant to be a joyous occasion, but they are also a time for truth to be spoken! You don’t have to do this alone, there are people who can help. There are trained, compassionate people who can give your family and your teen the tools they need to live a healthy, flourishing life. If you feel at a loss as to how to help your teenager, set aside your pride, your hopes, and your dreams for your child, and find people who can help. And listen to what they have to say, it might just save your child’s life.