Grandparenting a teenager is very different from grandparenting a younger grandchild

Teen-age grandchildren can sometimes have a tough time of it. Grandparents are especially important at this time of life. They can help teenagers by dealing with them both directly, through their relationship and indirectly by supporting their parents, and sometimes becoming a buffer to ease family conflict.

The little child that followed you around with adoring eyes has metamorphosed into a teenager; dealing with a changing body, moods, identity, and new and powerful feelings. A bit gangly confused and slightly out of whack with life. His/her moody mind is now focussed on self and the world of peers; family can sometimes take a back seat, than becomes important again. Mom and Dad are no longer the ultimate authority, now they may be seen as the “family police,” oppressors who don’t “understand” and always placing “limits” on the teenagers behaviors.

The good news is that Grandma and Grandpa can be neutral ground—spared from the emotional war zone that teenagers create with their parents. At adolescence teenagers, trying to discover their own identity, “separate” emotionally from their parents. But, because of the special nature of the grandparent-grandchild bond, teenagers are not as emotionally entwined with grandparents as they are with their parents therefore grandparents (spared from the “police” function) can be an emotional sanctuary for them. Indeed grandparents can be invaluable for helping and supporting the teenagers deal with their parents through this difficult life transition.

Teenagers learn from grandparents

Teenagers are in search of knowledge that grandparents teach. They are especially interested in family history, grandparent’s personal experience, and in philosophical discussions about life, religion, love, marriage, metier, politics, their grandparent’s times, life and death, being older, and other subjects that Mom and Dad may be too busy (or too young) to talk about. This is a grandparent’s special curriculum that teenagers want to learn. This knowledge is acquired in an off-hand manner; during a car ride, fishing, eating, cooking, playing. And, most of all, grandparents embody the psirit of the family and supply an important role model for teenagers.

Grandparents learn to “get with it” from teenagers

To communicate with teenagers grandparents have to get into their world too. Education is required: so hasten to the library and pick up a good book about teenagers to learn a bit about what kids are going through today. A teenager’s life today is very different from what our generation went through in the past. Visit your grandchild’s school too. Talk with teachers. Listen to your grandchild’s music. Watch their favorite TV programs. Take your grandchild clothes shopping. Attend community meetings about issues affecting your grandchild. Discuss their lifestyles with them…in a learning rather than critical mode.

Your teenage grandchild will bring about positive changes in you too. You will learn tolerance of new ideas, patience, understanding and personal flexibility. Although it’s important to get into their world as much as possible while, it’s just as important to remain in your own. They need your experience and values (manners for example). Be yourself (no tattoos or pierced ears). Teenagers find security and comfort with grandparents—Grandma and Grandpa offer them a safe place from the sturm and drang of the teenage world. Kids want you to understand them, but not be like them. And be available to them on their terms. no easy task. Teenagers love to eat, so feed them….home-made or store bought. Being with a teenager will keep you young, healthy and vital…and a bit tired.

Grandparents offer a safe sanctuary for teenagers

When problems exist, an understanding, compassionate, nurturing and stress-free environment that grandparents can offer is just what teenagers need. Your grandchild’s problems can be respectfully heard, and advice can be freely given and received while watching a TV program together and eating popcorn, or on a drive to a sporting event or a shopping spree. and their parents will appreciate knowing that the children are safe while things cool down. Grandma’s is always a good place to go.

Parents benefit too.

Teenagers can “overload” their parents with issues and problems. Grandparents can offer a safe and secure respite for parents by giving the parents respite. A weekend at Grandma’s can mean that Mom and Dad can go off for much needed, although brief, second honeymoon. And children feel good when Mom and Dad are having fun!

Dr. Arthur Kornhaber
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  • Arthur Kornhaber M.D. is a grandfather, clinician, researcher, medical writer, and the Founder and President of the Foundation for Grandparenting. A leading authority on the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, he directs, since 1970, the longest ongoing grandparenting research and information project and is the author of several internationally recognized books and numerous articles on the topic. Dr. Kornhaber writes articles, speaks widely, and appears regularly in the media, including Network morning shows (NBC, CBS etc.), to raise grandparent consciousness and to educate people about grandparent-related issues.