Do you have teens and pre-teens coming to your Thanksgiving celebration? Wondering how to engage them in the festivities without treating them like babies? Wondering how to survive their surly attitudes and lack of enthusiasm without putting them in the blockades? Wondering what you can do to encourage them to put their devices down? Wondering how you can do more than just survive the day?

I am right there with you.

Facing the holiday’s with skeptical teenagers has been a shift that I have had to make recently.

Gone are the days Pilgrim costumes and handprint turkey crafts, painted macaroni “bead” necklaces, and This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land sing-alongs.

Which is why I –the queen of last minute solutions – have, in the past few years, begun doing the only thing I know to do. I have been planning ahead, getting down and dirty with intentional parenting, stock piling up on ideas to keep my teen and pre-teen involved and busy come Thanksgiving.

Because I thought you might be facing some of the same challenges, I wanted to share the ideas that have worked best, and a few new ones I am hoping to add to my Thanksgiving-is-Fun-For-Everyone repitoire.

Thanksgiving with teens

For the Artistic Teen

Edible Crafts

Make an edible Thanksgiving Village using this teepee cupcake idea and this log cabin design from Martha Stewart.

To prepare, pre-bake the cupcakes, print out the images and instructions, and have all the supplies at the ready. Then turn over the process to your teens. If there are younger kids, ask the older kids to help them decorate their Teepee’s.

Making the Place Cards

Place cards are a great way to get the kids involved and helping.

There are so many cute place card crafts online that you shouldn’t have any problem finding one that fits your design scheme and your kid’s interest.

My boys like history and ships and battles, so this year I am going to ask them if they will make mini-Mayflower place cards.

They could write each family members name on the ship or the flag, or customize it by creating a family crest.  For my boys the key will be me having all the parts pre-cut and ready to go. All they have to do is assemble and label.

If you have a pre-teen who really loves to bedazzle, this craft could be an all-day crafting extravaganza.

Thanksgiving with teens

For the Culinary Teen

Cooking Part of the Meal

Our boys like to cook.

In fact Miles has decided he wants to own a food truck when he grows up, so having them help prepare the meal makes sense. I have found that for older kids, the Pioneer Woman’s cookbooks are the very best. She gives very clear step-by-step directions along with pages of pictures. If you don’t have her cookbooks no worries – her blog post are the same way.

This year Wylie is making her Creamy Mashed Potatoes, Miles is making Green Bean Casserole straight from the recipe on the French onion can.

mashed potatoesPhoto source

Mocktail Bar Tender

What kid doesn’t love being a mixologist?

One fun activity to help keep teens engaged is to put them in charge of keeping guest hydrated. If your kitchen is like mine on Thanksgiving (well-organized chaos) having too many extra people rummaging through the fridge for beverages can be the straw that breaks a patient hostesses back.

Try having a variety of beverages and a drink recipe list of tasty “mocktails” (I love this list from Today’s Mama) that the big kids can mix and serve to guest.

Fun for the Game Loving Teen

Lawn Games

One of my goals this year is for our kids to stay off the media for the majority of the day (with the exception of watching the Macy’s Day Parade and maybe one football game of course).

In preparation I have assembled a variety of lawn games that can be played – washers, horseshoes, and croquet. If the weather is too cold or wet then we will break out Monopoly or a deck of cards, but I think with a good hat and a sturdy coat, a lot of fun can still be had outdoors.

The key to getting them on board with this plan, is to put them completely in charge of setting up the games. Once they have worked together to set everything up, they will be much more invested in playing,

Thanksgiving with teens

Harness the Media for Good

So the kids won’t get off their devices?

Well, harness this habit for good. If you have a Chromecast stick, or another device (just ask the kids they will tell you if you do,) that will allow you to stream YouTube on the main television, give the kids the task of finding and playing the best Thanksgiving videos they can find. Funny videos, historical videos, satires, songs, whatever they want to share.

The reality is that “online life” is normal life for our teens, and we will do much better to figure out how to join them in it, rather than fighting against it all the time. So this Thanksgiving, show your teens that you care about their world, and ask them to share their expertise with the family – setting the visual playlist for the whole gang.

And finally remember – teens may or may not act as if they enjoy any of the activities they plan for them- but that doesn’t mean they aren’t indeed having a fun.

As someone who works with teenagers professionally, I can attest to the fact that they have a great way of acting extremely underwhelmed even when they are having a really lovely time. And they will appreciate (even though it might not show for six months,) you taking the time to be intentional about creating a space for them in the celebrations.

Feeling wanted and seen is a huge part of how teens feel loved.

So go ahead, plan a few teen-specific activities, and don’t be discouraged if they don’t act overly enthused. The good stuff is still getting in there – I promise!