You may have experienced this. The same grandchild who was all wide-eyed and in love with you just a few years ago, is now aloof, gangly and seemingly disinterested in his or her relationship with you. Don’t believe it for a minute! The teens of today’s fast-paced world have all the same stressors we had as young people, but multiplied by tens. They need strong family ties more than ever but we have to work a little bit to earn their trust. Here are some tips to keep the lines of communication open all through those stormy teen years.
1) Become familiar with their world. You don’t have to like all the music they play, but find a group or a genre that you can find interesting and become conversant about it. Your teens want to know that you understand at least a little bit about the things they enjoy.
2) And speaking of knowing about their world. Let them teach you the inner workings of blogs and tweets and ipods and more. You’ll learn the technology you need to understand, and they’ll be pleased to be able to be the expert. (Allow a few smirks when you ask questions that reveal your nerdiness).
3) Show an interest in their classes, grades, extra-curricular activities and hobbies. While some teens are wired to machines a good part of each day, they still do participate in sports, clubs, and other activities. Find something whether it be chess, art, science projects – anything to give you an entry into conversations about their life.
4) Be present for special events such as birthdays, graduations, games, plays or other life events. Teens may not be able to express their love and appreciation as well as they did at age five when they promised to “love you forever,” but they still feel the same way inside. Your presence matters.
5) Feed them. Kids love to eat and they’ll make your kitchen their second home if they know they’re welcome. They’ll even bring along assorted friends and in the midst of meals and snacks they’ll share some of the important issues currently on their minds.
6) Teens often want a listening ear to process their world view. They want to explore social issues, religion, politics and the meaning of life in a setting where there is safety and respect and room to grow.
7) Teens are curious about life in your generation. They’ll listen to your stories about your growing-up years especially if a few of them show your humanity. While teens often feel judged, they will welcome stories that reveal the mistakes and learning experiences of older family members.
8) Whatever you do, don’t dwell on outward appearance issues such as dress, hair styles, tattoos and the like. You don’t have to approve of these things, but don’t allow them to become barriers between you.
9) Keep a sense of humor about life and share it with your teen grandchildren. They often feel overwhelmed by all the pressures and expectations placed on them. It’s good to let down and just laugh together some of the time.
10) Provide a listening ear, be willing to share an opinion or two, and while you may provide a buffer zone between teens and their parents, don’t get in the middle of discipline issues in the teen’s home.
In short, you get to do some of the fun interactions with your teen grandchildren without the ultimate responsibility of parenting them. It’s a good thing. And while it’s a bit difficult to get into the heads of teenagers at times, your efforts will pay off in gold. There will be a time when those teens become young adults with careers and families of their own and they will be patterning their lives after their heroes – You.