Family rituals can include everything from holiday traditions passed down through generations to Taco Tuesday and the silly way you always say goodnight. As teens become more independent, these rituals matter more, not less. Rituals strengthen bonds between family members by creating shared memories and reinforcing shared values. They’re a way of saying, “this is who we are as a family,” giving teens a crucial sense of belonging and identity. Rituals also help teens feel secure in the midst of transitions and protect them against the negative effects of stress and anxiety. To create meaningful family rituals with your teen, follow these six steps:
- Appreciate the rituals you already have.
Almost anything you do together as a family on a regular basis can become a ritual. Do you and your teen have any secret code words or inside jokes? Do you always make waffles on Sunday morning or order pizza when you watch a movie together? How do you celebrate birthdays, holidays and other special occasions? Take a moment to jot down whatever comes to mind– you’ll probably discover that your family already has more than a few rituals. You may also discover some “almost-rituals” that can be upgraded with a little effort.
2. Think about how you can infuse more meaning into each day.
Rituals pause the hustle of daily life so we can remember what matters most. A ritual doesn’t have to be complex or time-consuming to be meaningful; it just needs to create a moment of heart-connection. To start a new ritual, think about how you can make daily routines a little more sacred or special. Always saying “I love you” at bedtime or sharing a blessing before dinner are powerful rituals because they create connection every day. So how can you and your teen share more meaningful moments throughout the day?
3. Ask your teen what matters most to them.
As teens get older, many may not care as much about family rituals, and sometimes they flat-out refuse to participate. Rebelling against family customs is one way teens test out their independence. But even if your teen responds with groans and eye rolls, rituals are still important. Instead of insisting “this is how we always do it” or giving up a treasured tradition, talk with your teen. Ask about their favorite ways to spend time together and what they think makes your family unique. Talk about positive memories you both have. Explore how you might create new rituals or make old ones more meaningful now that your teen is growing up.
4. Know when to let go.
Sometimes a ritual just doesn’t work for everyone anymore. Schedules shift, roles change, and teens acquire busy social lives, extracurricular activities and jobs. Remember that the goal of family rituals is bonding and there are many ways to do that. If you’re the only one who wants to keep a ritual alive, it might be better to change it up or even let it go for a while. Emphasize the rituals that do work and find new ways to nurture family connections. Lots of teens go through a few years of rebellion only to return to cherished traditions later on.
5. Explore your family history.
Find inspiration for new rituals by investigating your heritage with your teen. Interview older relatives, make a family tree online, or research the cultural traditions represented in your family’s backgrounds. What holidays and festivals did your ancestors celebrate? What food, dances, clothing and other customs were a part of their lives? What were their struggles, and how are those reflected in rituals? Do you have stories, recipes, photos or keepsakes you can share with your teen? Learning rituals rooted in the past helps teens form a stronger sense of who they want to become in the future.
6. Base rituals on values.
Whatever shape they take, family rituals are one of the ways values are passed down to future generations. Make a list of the values you want to convey to your teen and ask whether they are reflected in your family’s current rituals. If not, simply stating, “We do this because it reminds us how much we value _____,” can help rituals rise above the same old routine. A ritual based on gratitude could be sharing one thing you feel thankful for every day, keeping an ongoing gratitude list on a chalkboard wall, or serving Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter each year.
Although they may be small and simple acts, rituals like these can help you and your teen stay grounded in the things that matter most, together.