12/25/2011 12:25 EST | Updated 02/23/2012 05:12 EST

On the 12th Day of Christmas My Troubled Teen Gave to Me...

Ken Rabow on Our Kids

12 subjects failing

11 notes from teachers

10 lies a leaping

9 hundred bucks in car dents

8 empty milk jugs

7 excuses daily

6 bags of dog poop

5 golden rings (in their nose and lips)

4 maxed out credit cards

3 freaky friends

2 laptop viruses...

and a phone message that I can't read

OK. So, it's a caricature and if it isn't... I'm really sorry. But, you don't have to witness some or all of the above to dread the holiday season with your teens.

It's the universal theme of the season. But hark! There is another way!

I have been working with teens for the past 10 years and my clients have found that the December holidays are a major challenge to their personal and academic development.

Truthfully, it is also a great opportunity to take stock of what they are doing in their lives and try some new ways to grow. Most often the holidays are spent doing everything possible to avoid the trajectory that their lives are on, and hanging out with friends sporting similar peccadilloes (see list above).

What can parents do in the December holidays to stop the trends that their teens and young adults seem to wallow in, and offer these children a chance to turn their lives around in the new year?

The four steps to a successful turn-around January in school:

1) Use active listening to let your child take stock of how his/her first term went.

Ask questions such as:

  • Looking back on your first term, what would do differently?
  • How could you prepare in a different manner?

N.B. Your job is not to give the answers or make comments, but to let your child figure out their own answers.

This is an ongoing process.

2) Spend some time together volunteering to help people less fortunate.

So many people get caught up with spending and desiring that they lose sight of the true spirit of giving (Zoozoos petals!). You can make no better statement than to have the family democratically choose a charity that you will spend some time volunteering to help together. The lessons learned can be dramatic. Try to resist making commentary. Let the actions speak for themselves and be there to let your child share his/her thoughts if he/she chooses to.

3) Pick a daily regimen of generative tasks that they can do to build the groundwork for a new and better year.

It can be something as simple as:

a) Meditating for 10 minutes a day.

b) Doing something creative.

c) Some simple physical exercise (electronics-free) that will allow your child to find their personal power. It really works.

4) Purpose -- Vision -- Goal

a) Invite them to "find their purpose" with a special caveat. They can change that purpose as many times as they want in the year, but simply pick one to make a target to shoot at and go for it.

b) Let them pick a way to envision how that purpose could play out.

c) Have them choose two short-term goals that will tell them they are on the way to making that vision come true. Show them how to keep themselves "on purpose."

Holidays are a great time to take stock, reflect and regroup. I'm not sure who thought of turning it into a giant movie, video game and toy fest. Take back the holidays and make it a time you look forward to sharing with your teens.

Merry Christmas to one and to all and a very tech-free night! (Written on my iPad)

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