Grandparents and Teenagers
by Lauren Teegarden
Are teenagers as impossible the second time around? Hardly.
While young children often admire and revere their grandparents, the same may not be true for teenagers. Being a grandparent to a teen requires some special skills. Your golden-curled, chubby-cheeked cutie may have morphed into a sharp-tongued, pierced-lipped teen, but don’t disappear for the teen years just because the difficulty of grandparenting has increased several notches on the Richter scale. Grandparents are especially important during this stage of life. You can provide support and advice to parents, become a confidante to teens, and help ease family conflict between teens and their parents.
As soon as the adorable child becomes a teenager, the absolute authority that mom and dad once had seems to evaporate overnight. The result in most families? Conflict. With the right tactics, however, grandparents can become a neutral ground in such conflicts. Because teenagers are not as emotionally intertwined with grandparents as with parents, grandparents can become a valuable emotional sanctuary separate from mom and dad’s “unfair” rules and regulations. Let’s examine the importance of the grandparent-teenager relationship.
1. Teens can learn from grandparents.
While it may not be obvious, teenagers are in search of their grandparent’s knowledge and information. Teenagers are interested in many topics that parents are too busy (or too young) to talk about: marriage, politics, aging, religion, love, and the past. Grandparents represent the spirit of the family and are an important role model for teenagers. Regardless of outward attitude, all teens want what family represents - a sense of unconditional belonging.
2. Grandparents can learn from teenagers.
Grandparents can learn to “get with it” from their grandchildren. This might mean using technology (such as email or instant messaging), updating an outdated wardrobe, trying a new type of food, or adapting vocabulary for the 21st century. It’s no secret that teenagers today have very different lives than, say, the 1940’s, and that degree of separation can actually provide a platform for connection. Just as your grandchildren are a link to the future, you are your grandchildren’s link to the past.
In order to successfully relate to your teenage grandchild, you must experience some of the same things he or she experiences. Try watching a movie or TV show that your grandchild likes, taking your grandchild shopping, or reading a contemporary book with teenagers as the main characters. Don’t worry if you haven’t an immediate affinity for today’s teen culture; too much has happened in the past fifty-plus years.
While it is valuable to experience the life and times of your teenager, don’t get carried away. Contrary to some views, teens want grandparents to be garage-band observers - not participants. All kids find security in the constant state of their grandparents.
3. Grandparent-grandchild relations can benefit parents.
If you live in proximity to your grandchild, provide a sanctuary for them. When relationship problems (from family, school, etc.) arise, be a listening ear and sage source of advice. Provide an environment where kids feel safe baring their dreams, fears, and regrets. Their peers may give questionable advice, and parents’ advice is often ignored, but your thoughts and opinions may be treated with respect.
Be a resource for parents as well as kids. As you most likely vividly recall from the 70’s long-hair, hippie phase, raising a teenager is hardly a picnic. If asked, share advice - or perhaps stories from when they were teenagers.
Grandparents often fill babysitting roles for young children, but “babysitting” can also apply to teens. Relieve mom and dad of their parenting responsibilities - and spend time with your grandchildren--by inviting the grandkids to your home for the weekend.
The teenage years couple both difficult and rewarding moments. During the years between the cute child and mature adult, character is molded. As a grandparent, it is both your privilege and duty to have a part in this process. After all, they’re a valuable legacy!
Lauren Teegarden, a high school senior, lives in Portland, Oregon. With grandparents of her own, Lauren recognized the value of strong grandparent-grandchild interactions and started “The Grandparent Connection.” Visit her website, www.thegrandparentconnection.org.