Family vacation: How to deal with relatives trying to sway teens

Family vacation often includes spending time with relatives, and they may be trying to win your teen's affection with over-the-top gifts. Deal with the issue by talking to the relative – and your teenager.

Dave Dieter/The Huntsville Times/AP
Family vacation is a time to encourage kids to spend time with relatives and make them feel special instead of expecting over-the-top gifts. In this June 2012 photo, Aaden Foutch (l.) and his brother Dylan play a game of checkers on the porch of the Cracker Barrel in Huntsville, Ala., after having lunch with their grandparents.

Summer is often a time for family vacation and making the rounds to relatives you may not get to visit often. As you know, your teens are a lot of fun to be around. Not yet adults, they are at an age when they have their eyes wide open. Their refreshing attitude can bring you back to when you were their age.

In fact, it is so infectious that on occasion it can result in the adults in the family vying to be the one relative that the teen loves most. After all, who doesn’t want to be the “cool” aunt or uncle? It is how the relatives go about earning this affection that is surprising, which can be especially evident at summer gatherings.

In my family it was my Great Uncle Mike, also known as the "Candy Uncle.” You knew that Mike always had his pockets filled with candy, so he was always voted the most popular uncle amongst us kids. I can't say we were as excited to visit sweet Great Aunt Rho. As the years went on it was clear she as slowly losing her faculties.

On occasion, I hear situations where the battle to be the favorite relative goes a little too far. There’s Grandpa Kent who upon hearing that his grandson’s other grandparents gave his grandson a hefty check, went out and bought the young man a car.  Perhaps he should have checked with the the parents first. There’s Aunt Trudy who buys her niece all the top designer clothes ignoring the pleas of the teen’s parents who are trying to teach her to work for such items, which they believe are unnecessary and frivolous. These are both a far cry from the Candy Uncle.

So, how do you address this? Any sort of calm and gentle confrontation can sometimes end up in a prickly situation. Indignation and anger are not uncommon reactions either. Nonetheless, this is about what you believe is best for your teen.

Sometimes a two step approach is best:

1. Talk to your teen. Explain why you are not OK with these tokens of affection. We know, it is not so easy to ask your teen to turn down a car or that new designer handbag.

Encourage your teen to spend time with the relative. This will help them feel special.

2. Talk to the relative. Explain why you can not allow your teen to accept these gifts. Emphasize your appreciation for their thoughtfulness and generosity. Suggest that the best gift is simply spending time with the teen.

Finally, we leave the best story for last. Grandma Jill showed up at her granddaughter’s house with a horse trailer with a beautiful Palomino. Great, right? Wrong. The family lived in a city and the father had just been laid off. The grandmother suggested that they put the horse in their backyard. They lived on a 1/4-acre plot with neighbors on both sides. You can’t make this stuff up, can you?

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Jennifer Powell-Lunder and Barbara Greenberg blogs at Talking Teenage.

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