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Not all teens are looking forward to Winter Break.

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Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, all things regarding advertising, marketing, store displays, television specials, etc. are geared toward celebrating the upcoming holidays. Even if the overwhelming bombardment does not designate a specific holiday, the vast majority of it focuses on spending time with family, traveling to either return home or visit relatives, and everything is warm, happy and cozy.

These portrayals are wonderfully idealistic; however, when working with teens in at-risk situations, this constant barrage simply reminds them that they do not get to look forward to such happy times. This is one piece of the holiday season that can cause teens to feel depressed, act out inappropriately or generally get themselves into trouble.

Two other realities factor into at-risk teens struggling more than usual during this time. One is the reality that our culture is saturated with consumerism and gift buying; therefore, people will be receiving gifts. However, if you are working with teens from very low-income families, all of these advertisements—on television, the radio, billboards, circulars in the mail—are a constant reminder of what they will NOT be receiving from “Santa”.

Another harsh concept that many of us do not really realize is that teens whose home lives are dangerous, depressing, violent, negligent or lacking general necessities are dreading the days off from school. Most teens cannot wait to be free of classes, sleep late, see extended family members and many of the other activities we take for granted. Teens who live in less-than-desirable conditions get to “look forward” to lack of food, lack of heat, potentially dangerous family members or neighbors, etc. When these kiddos come to school and find warmth, free breakfast and lunch, adults who care about them, routines and safety, anticipating a block of time without these comforts can easily cause behavioral and emotional issues.

As the days count down closer toward holiday breaks, pay close attention to your kids who may be dreading the school break. Do some background investigation and find out which teens could use some extra help (food/practical gifts) and find a way to play “Secret Santa” to get some of those necessities to them. That may mean that you solicit the adults with whom you work to make donations (financial or store-bought gifts), perhaps you tap into the local food pantry, or maybe there is a civic group or religious group who would like to contribute to the cause.

Ultimately, as a teen mentor, you need to be extra aware of their behaviors, their situation, and any special needs they may have with which you can help. Sometimes all it takes is checking in with them, listening and letting them know you care. I know it is corny, but showing care for one another truly is the most important theme of this entire holiday season.

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