Teens and grandparents

Avoid over-involvement

Always remember that you are their grandparents. Listen and show empathy but do not take over their problems. Never try to influence them to take sides against a parent or stepparent. I overheard a doting grandfather saying to his 13-year-old grandson, ‘You don’t have to listen to Philip. He’s only your stepfather and has no right to tell you what to do.’ This was not only extremely unwise and uncalled for, but very out of line and unfair.

Keep the boundaries clear

But work at strengthening the bonds. They may not run to sit on your lap or jump happily into your eager arms anymore, but you can be sure that they will appreciate your kind smiles and genuine interest and concern. An arm around a shoulder, a spontaneous hug, a surprise gift or card will all be appreciated, even if they are now too cool to immediately return the affection.

Work at long-distance relationships

Many grandparents do not have the opportunity to interact physically with grandchildren because they live in far-flung cities and countries. This should however not be a deterrent in an age of technology and satellite communication. It should become easier to communicate with growing grandchildren as they are able to reciprocate. Reach out to them. Ask about their interests, hobbies and friends. Remember their friends’ names and important events. Send cards with relevant messages – anything that will keep the relationship connections alive and healthy.

Share your teen experiences with them

During the teen years grandchildren are more amenable to learn more about your teen years. It is a good opportunity to tell them how things were for you – even some of the mistakes you made. The generation distance can actually be an asset. Whereas parents and teens are often too intense and subjectively involved, you have the benefit of physical and emotional distance. You are the ‘oldies’ who grew up in those far-distant days before laptops, cellphones, digital cameras and DVDs

Take opportunities when it seems to be appropriate and always keep the balance. Put yourself in their shoes and then gently ease them into yours as well. ‘I can hear you are very worried about your subject choices because it’s so important for university entrance later.’ Then use the opportunity to tell them about how it was for you in the ‘old days’.

Help with the transition from child to teen

Don’t despair when these eager little grandchildren suddenly seem to rely on you less and are less ecstatic when you arrive for a visit. They still love and need you, but in different ways. Just as you had to adjust to their parents needing you less intensely so they, in their turn, will do the same. It will be up to you to shift gradually and to respect their need for space and more adult communication. Grandparents can help an emerging teen negotiate the transition from childhood to full-blown teenager.

Be aware and perceptive. At family gatherings your 12-year-old grandchild will suddenly appear totally disconnected; unable to relate to the younger children any longer, but not yet fully comfortable in adult company. You can disconnect from the adults and the children and connect with this uncertain 12-year-old. Make a point of talking to her. This is yet another chance to cement the bonds and ensure that your relationship with this precious grandchild moves as seamlessly as possible from childhood to adolescence to adulthood.

This is an extract from Children Need Grandparents by Anne Cawood (Metz Press).
Do you think kids really need grandparents? Comment below.
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