We drove through a holiday lights display event the other night. I texted my friend to let her know it was great and that my three teens enjoyed it

“Ugh,” she replied. “I can’t get the teenager to go. He said it’s for little kids.”

“MAKE HIM GO!” I angry-texted back. “He needs some holiday cheer.”

Because if there was ever a year our teenagers need some Christmas magic, it’s this one.

Every kid in the country has missed out on something in 2020, some more than others. In our area, school has been shut down, sports canceled, and social events non-existent. Most parents are begging their teens to wake up and get on their laptops so they can face hours of online learning, then after school, they spend hours trying to figure out what they were supposed to have learned that day.

They miss their sports and activities and friends. Their already teen-limited motivation is at an all-time low. Their mental health is pushed to the brink.

And as parents, we are left grasping at straws trying to figure out what to do for our children. How much do we push? How much do we turn the other cheek? Where is the line between safety and socialization? What is their breaking point?

For most of these big kids, I don’t think they have any idea what they need right now, so sometimes we have to give them a little push in the right direction.

In the case of my friend whose son is having a particularly hard time these last few months, I felt he needed a big fat shove to go see some lights. I know he’s been holed up in his room, sullen and despondent about missing his basketball season, his girlfriend, and school. Normally an energetic kid, he has withdrawn completely from the outside world. Torn between keeping his family members who have an autoimmune disease safe and the desire to feel “normal,” it is a lot for a 15-year-old to handle.

His mom tried to give him some space, but unfortunately, when left to his own devices, he withdrew even further. It became harder to get him to come out of his room, to get him to exercise, to care about anything. He is stuck in a cycle and he can’t break free.

Sometimes when we see these adult-sized children in front of us, we forget their brains aren’t fully developed yet. In times of crisis, they don’t always make the best decisions for themselves; when their lives are tough, they don’t always know how to get out of the muck.

Sometimes, we need to aggressively encourage them to participate.

Forced family fun is never wrong in these situations.

Because big kids still get excited by Christmas lights, they still love hot chocolate, they still wonder what the gifts are under the tree—even when they act like they don’t care.

Surly teens may say they don’t want to bake cookies, but make them do it anyway. Adolescent girls may roll their eyes when you want to take the cheesy photo in matching pajamas in front of the tinsel tree from your childhood, but make them do it anyway. Your man-child may not want to put his video game controller down long enough to watch The Grinch, but make him do it anyway.

The next night my friend texted me. “Thanks for pushing me to make him go. We ended up having a great time. We even took a selfie!”

If there was ever a season our teenagers need a little holiday magic, it’s this one.

Even if they need some extra prodding to participate.

PS – If you’re a mom of teens, don’t put so much pressure on yourself to make Christmas perfect . . . you’re doing great.

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a communications consultant, and blogger. She tries to dispel the myth of being a typical suburban mom although she is often driving her minivan to soccer practices and attending PTA meetings. She writes about parenting, relationships, and w(h)ine on her blog Playdates on Fridays.