The early years of grandparenting can be so much fun. Your grandchildren are little, playful, and so very cute. They crave interaction, following you everywhere and hanging on your every word.
Then before you know it, things are different. Busy with their own lives, they don’t come around as often. Feeling “much too big for that,” they no longer crawl up in your lap or shadow your every move. More guarded with their thoughts and emotions, they don’t talk as openly as they once did.
The changes are normal. But knowing this does little to remove the confusion, discouragement, and frustration we sometimes feel as our adorable little grandchildren grow up to be teens.
In this strange, unsettling place, the easiest course of action is to throw up our hands and bow out.
But we must remember that the easy way out is not always best. In the case of grandparenting teens, bowing out is definitely not best. God calls us to disciple our grandchildren, something we cannot do without contact and connection. It may not be easy. It will take work. But nowhere in the Bible are we ever given a free pass on our duties simply because work is required.
So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get ready to do the hard work necessary for building a close relationship with our teen grandchildren.
Ideas for Grandparenting Teens
Begin this journey into your new phase of grandparenting by spending time in God’s Word, searching out his instructions to grandparents (Deuteronomy 6:6-8; Psalm 78:1-8; Psalm 145:4-7; and others). Understand that our calling is to pass a legacy of faith to younger generations , which includes our teen grandchildren. Make the commitment both in prayer and in writing to honor that call – no matter how hard.
Then follow through on your commitment by creating various opportunities for the contact and connection that are vital to the health of your relationship.
Created for connection, our grandkids are drawn to the places where they think their craving will be satisfied. Sadly, this means that many are settling for the poor substitutes they find on social media – ones that often lead to anxiety, stress, identity issues, and so much more. The special time you make for your grandchildren lets them know they are of great value and helps build the strong, solid connections they need. Consider these ideas for connecting:
- One-on-one time – There is just something about one-on-one time. When parents and siblings are not present, a different dynamic exists that helps conversations flow and relationships grow.
- Watch a movie –Let your teenage grandchild choose the movie. It may not be something that you would usually watch but watch it anyway. Their choice will reveal so much about them to you. Next time, you choose. If possible, watch the movie in your home where you are free to talk as you watch. Movie theaters are not conducive to conversation but are a valid option as you transition into this new phase of your relationship especially if you go for dessert afterward.
- Attend a sporting event, play, or concert – Be sure to consider your grandchild’s interests before choosing. On the way home, stop for a bite to eat and discuss your evening.
- Go hiking, fishing, or sightseeing – Change up the scenery. Get them out of the house and away from the electronics.
- Share a hobby – Does your grandchild enjoy baseball, baking, or collecting coins? What hobbies do you enjoy? Grilling, gardening, painting? Gather the materials and enjoy a hobby together.
- Teach each other a new skill – My daughter shared with me that her teen girls taught her how to add another member to a FaceTime call so they could have a family discussion. For the most part, teens know so much more about technology. Let them teach you. In return, offer to teach them how to sew or build a birdhouse.
- Attend school functions, sporting events, and music recitals – Be their biggest cheerleader.
- Browse old photo albums – Photos of them, their parents, and you when each was young can spark wonderful conversations.
- Eat – Take your grandchildren out to eat at their favorite restaurant or fix them their favorite home cooked meal.
- Volunteer together – Look for opportunities that interest you both – serving at a soup kitchen, helping at a youth camp, working in the audio-visual ministry at your church. Check with your church and neighborhood nonprofit groups to find something of common interest.
- Go on vacation – Invite your teen grandchild to your home or travel someplace together. If your finances allow, you might even want to consider instituting a family tradition where each grandchild gets to choose where you will vacation together when they celebrate a certain milestone such as a 16th birthday or graduation.
A good question is one of the most powerful tools any grandparent can utilize. Asking questions of your grandchildren shows your interest in them and draws them into conversation. Your questions can help you learn so much about your grandchild’s personality, daily life, struggles, and feelings. Even a reserved teen can be drawn out through the power of a great question.
So, what qualifies as a good question? Forget yes or no questions and anything that requires a simple one-word response. These questions don’t go very far in sparking conversation or building deep connections. And, absolutely, avoid questions spiked with sarcasm, laced with judgment, or meant to embarrass. Good questions are open-ended and require some thought in the answering. They invite your grandchild to share how they think and what they feel. As well, they create a space for honest answers.
Do an internet search for “how to listen well,” and it will return a plethora of results – active listening, effective listening, Listening for Heaven’s Sake. Sure, some great ideas are shared within each of these methods. But the bottom line when it comes to listening to your teen grandchild is to just listen:
Give them your full attention – Put your phone away and remove all other distractions. Show them their importance by keeping your eyes on them while they speak.
Don’t let your mind wander – Keep your mind focused on what is being said rather than on how you will respond.
Don’t judge – If you are living an authentic life of faith before them, your grandchildren already know how you feel. Give them the freedom to talk without the worry of condemnation. Be their safe place.
Don’t give advice – Unless you are specifically asked, don’t try to fix the problem or give advice. If you are asked for advice, keep your words short and to the point. And, this is so important: do not preach. They get enough of that from other adults in their lives. Instead, bathe both your grandchild and the problem in prayer.
5-Let Go of Expectations
We all have tightly held expectations of how things should be. The thing is, it’s those pesky expectations that often cripple our relationships.
Did you know that one of the reasons teens stay away from some adults is that they don’t feel they are living up to expectations?
Haircuts, hair color, piercings, tattoos, clothing styles, are they really that important? The truth is these are little things, and they will change with time. Learn to keep your mouth shut when it comes to the little things. Create a safe space for your grandchildren to share the big things, the ones that really matter.
What about those times when you truly believe that your grandchild is wrong? Keep it to yourself. As mentioned above, you share your beliefs with your grandchild through your authentic faith life. A living example of your faith is far more effective than a hundred lectures could ever be. Of course, this does not mean that you overlook and accept bad behavior. Establish house rules and apply them equally to all your grandchildren, including the teens.
And what about the expectation that your relationship with your teen grandchild will be the same as it was when they were young? Acknowledge it as unrealistic and let it go. The fact is, it’s the nature of a teenager to do their own thing and grow their own identity as they spread their wings. Yes, they have other things vying for their thoughts and time, and they won’t necessarily be around as much as they once were. It doesn’t mean they no longer love you.
6-Ask for Help
Just as our grandchildren were made for connection, so were we. We were not meant to navigate these new waters alone. Think back. Were you surrounded by a bevy of friends when you walked down the aisle? Did you have the support of a MOPS group when preschoolers filled your home? Was there a trusted friend on speed-dial when your kids were teens?
Don’t abandon God’s design for community now. Gather a like-minded tribe that you can ask for help and find support. Join or start a Grandparents at Prayer group, connect with a Bible-based grandparenting group, either face-to-face or online, or make a pact with a trusted grandparent friend and get them on speed-dial. However you choose to surround yourself with help, don’t be afraid to ask.
Contrary to what we may think as our teen grandchildren seem to pull away, they really do crave positive adult interaction. They may not be quick to show it. They may want it on their terms. But they do want it. It is up to us to do the work to make sure it happens.