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It was a long time ago when you and I were teens, but you probably still remember how difficult those years can be. Studies show that while teens bodies are changing rapidly and they’re maturing in many ways, their brains are still developing—the parts of the brain that control impulses and make rational decisions are still forming. No wonder teens can become overwhelmed with all the choices and responsibilities set before them.

That’s where we grandparents come in: we can be a listening ear and a role model for them, encouraging the development of strong and healthy character traits and providing much-needed positive influences for their lives.

Let Them Know You Care

It’s easy to fuss and coo over babies and toddlers. And it’s quite easy to interact with elementary-aged children who are open and spontaneous with their chatter and their hugs. But teens sometimes become quieter and more private. They seem to fade into the woodwork when you visit and they don’t share their daily lives as easily.

This can make staying close to them difficult. But, don’t let them fool you. Teens still want close and caring relationships with the significant people in their lives. You may need to ask questions to get them talking, or talk about their favorite team’s latest game. Make the effort to find out what is on their mind and then engage them in conversation.

While some teens shy away from physical affection as they get older, many will welcome a hug or an arm around a shoulder. Finding ways to laugh with them is another surefire way to show your love. 

Take Some Time

As in any relationship, a strong bond requires time spent together. You may have already established certain activities they enjoyed when younger—fishing, tennis, hiking or a favorite video game. But be ready for your teen grandkids to want to try new things. Be a fan of their latest skateboard trick or show up for their track meet. Challenge them to a chess game or listen to a track of their favorite music. In whatever they do cheer them on and let them know you’re so proud of their efforts.

Sometimes a simple invitation to share a burger or get some ice cream is all it takes to open up time for a great discussion about whatever is on their minds. Teens learn a lot from shared stories of either your life experiences or those of others. Sharing your convictions about positive character traits such as kindness, honesty, work ethic, etc. will make an impact on your teen grandchild as they are learning who they want to be in life.

Show an Interest

What does your teen read? Who is their favorite athlete or performer? What music is running through their heads? What is the biggest challenge in their life currently? Is it drugs or alcohol? Is it vaping? Is your teen grandchild struggling with choosing friends they can trust? 

Let your grandchild know you care about their life and want to hear their ideas. What do they think they may study one day? Who are their heroes? What skills do they want to learn and what frightens them?

Many children today have long-term fears related to peer pressure, mental health, bullying, issues of gender and identity, and the future of our environment. These are legitimate concerns that have no easy answers, yet a listening ear, a calm invitation to share and exchange ideas can provide that open door to honest communication—something teens will appreciate.

Have High Expectations

Teens are on to us—they know we’ve always thought the world revolved around them. They’re coming to understand that empty praise isn’t very helpful, but appreciation for effort may be. So tell your grandkids that you’re proud that they turned out for basketball and you love that they took an art class that intimidated them. Support their willingness to take risks in learning something new and don’t make them feel like they have to be the best at everything they try.

However, when it comes to being a kind, generous and loving person—that’s where you set high expectations. Let them know you respect them when they make a tough decision, that you honor their efforts on their athletic teams or in the drama club.You’re proud when they volunteer time to help in the community.You expect them to be great in all the important ways.

Teens today have a lot more to deal with than we did in our simpler, less complicated life back in the day. Yet the issues still come down to making positive choices, choosing good friends, following the house rules and being a reliable person. While grandparents don’t have the authority of the parents, we still have the opportunity to instill positive values in our grandkids’ lives.

What do teens want? They want to be heard. They want to be loved. They want to be safe and they want to belong. Teen years can be exhilarating, but they can also be challenging. Let’s be a strong and available ear for them and be role models for the kind of people we want them to become.