Leaving Behind the Grimace:
How Not to Embarrass Your Grandchildren
By Lauren Teegarden
Every child’s experience of the dreaded grandparent-induced embarrassment is different: for some, it is a cutesy pet name that carries into adulthood; for others, it is loud comments at inopportune moments.
These moments—regardless of their source or context—are etched into childhood memories, sometimes making grandchildren reluctant to spend time with their grandparents. The fears persist: What if grandma spends hours showing off not-so-cute baby photos? How will I face my friends if grandpa insists on another family reenactment of the Battle of Antietam in the yard? Grandparents, armed with a few tips, can conquer the dreaded embarrassment-induced fear.
Age, Not Shoe Size
Once middle-age has hit, differentiating between middle school, high school, college, and beyond can be difficult: after all, everyone just looks so young! It’s important to keep track of what stage of life your grandchild is in: don’t treat a fourteen-year-old like an elementary school student, and remember the difference between college and high school. It’s best to err on the side of too old rather than too young. A 9th grader would much rather receive a New York Times best seller than the recommended just-for-kids choice at the local bookstore--even if he’s not interested just now. Kids are embarrassed when their grandparents treat them as younger kids in front of the extended family or friends.
Properly Placed Enthusiasm
Energy’s great in the right context. Grandchildren will respond to grandparents who are vital and have similar interests, but they will also feel the most comfortable when they know that their grandparents won’t exhibit any inappropriate enthusiasm in potentially archaic, off-limits, or taboo topics. Don’t ever force grandchildren to participate in activities—even if it something that you are quite sure they would enjoy. Even if Johnny enjoys fishing, he might not want to spend Saturday with the over-sixty fly fishing club. And, stories that begin with “back in my day” probably aren’t winners either, especially if they are told in the hearing of your grandchildren’s peers. Family history is valuable, but if the same stories are repeated at every gathering, then it’s probably time to move on.
Boost the Pop Culture and Technology I.Q.
Keep up-to-speed on the latest movie, music, fashion, and sports trends. Familiarize yourself with the things important to today’s young people. Any references to cassette tapes (or even worse, records), VHS players, disco, or the days before the NBA, and the grandchildren will roll their eyes. If, by any chance, you do run across an unfamiliar tidbit of popular culture, ask your grandchild (not a passerby or store clerk) its significance. Keep a notebook, if you have to, of all the important terms. Learn how to properly operate (or at least be familiar with) all modern-day pieces of technology, including DVD players, MP3 players, email, cell phones, and computers. It's not necessary to become a pop culture and technology expert, but is important to have adequate working knowledge.
Minimize the Embarrassing Photo Ops
Little kids like photos. Teenagers usually do not. By not taking embarrassing photos of kids at age three, you will be thanked later. By not insisting on a plethora of home videos and photos in the teen years, you will be rewarded by greater willingness to participate in family activities. Avoid bathtub, blankie-at-age-twelve, awkward braces, and my-first-date shots.
Taking measures to minimize the grandparent embarrassment factor will make your grandchild more comfortable spending time in your company. Treat grandchildren their age. Show enthusiasm in normal activities. Retain a reasonable pop-culture and technology knowledge. And don’t take embarrassing photos. But do not let the quest to be a “hip” grandparent override your main purpose: to show your grandchildren love, even if they are in 2007 and you are back in 1957.
Lauren Teegarden is a student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. With grandparents of her own, Lauren recognized the value of strong grandparent-grandchild interactions and started "The Grandparent Connection," a free monthly email newsletter with articles, advice, and activities for grandparents. Visit her website,