by Mark Gregston
Outside of the US, extended families are fairly common. With the ever-changing family dynamics and a rise in the number of families with two working parents, extended families—ones that rely on grandparents for support—are becoming more common. Research shows that grandparents play an important role in the lives of teenagers and high levels of grandparental involvement actually decrease emotional and behavioral issues—which is great for everyone!
Grandparents have been around a long time, so they can provide today’s youth with something very important, something needed daily—perspective. It’s not uncommon to hear people wax poetically about the “good old days,” but when I grew up, political leaders faced assassination, counter-cultural revolutions were the norm, and people were not yet aware of the consequences that would befall them during the “Swinging Sixties.”
For many of today’s teens, the world seems like it’s spinning out of control, and that’s why they need to get a viewpoint that only grandparents can offer.
Lost Perspectives and Grandparent Roles
Just as it was when I was growing up, teenagers often don’t understand the impact that today’s decisions have later in life. They often ignore consequences because the bigger picture hasn’t been communicated to them. Part of that comes from today’s trend of moms and dads moving away from parenting their kids, toward having more of a peer relationship with them in order to create a relational environment. Couple that with the advent of unlimited access to the internet, and you have the perfect storm. Teens have an endless amount of information, but they’re starving for wisdom. They’re also starving to find purpose and meaning to their lives, and that’s where grandparents can stand in the gap. Parents have the amazing task of influencing their teens, but grandparents offer them what their parents cannot—a lifetime of experiences and a legacy filled with perspective. But how do you do that?
How to Bring Perspective into Their World
Grandkids open up a part of your heart that you probably didn’t even know existed, and they are a reward for all your hard work! As a grandparent you don’t have to teach them life lessons—you can leave that task to mom and dad because your job is to provide them with a soft place to land. At my house, we like to keep the welcome mat out, food in the fridge, a comfy place for our grandkids to hang out where they feel they can be seen—and heard.
Remember, this culture is all that today’s teen knows, so don’t criticize or condemn it. You can help them see and think about life’s big picture while helping to keep the day-to-day details small. It’s all about engaging with them in a way that compassionately speaks to their heart.
Ask questions that matter to them. Ask about the music they like, or what they think about everyone getting a tattoo or piercing these days. Teens can find criticism in just about every area of life, so make sure your language is always full of grace and flavored with salt. Just because you might disagree with them, doesn’t mean you can’t have a meaningful conversation with your grandchild.
Some Friendly Parental Advice
Parents, don’t be discouraged because this article is targeted toward your parents. You still have the heavy lifting to do when it comes to making sure your teens grow into healthy, happy, and mature people. That’s no easy feat! So, take advantage of the opportunity that your child’s grandparent plays in supporting the family. I think grandparents sometimes have bigger ears because they’re not so intent on doing your job.
The teenage years mark the time in your child’s life when you need to make time to be with them regularly. You can do this by creating an atmosphere at home that is inviting—a place where your kids will want to share with you what’s really going on with them.
Take a drive, or better yet, have them take you for a drive. Go for a walk. Do something that engages your child, and then be prepared for some honest conversations. You don’t have to compromise your values and convictions, but you do have to make sure that when you speak to your teens, you do so with compassion and truth.
Moms and Dads … you’re doing great. You have a tough job. So, let grandparents help by being involved in the life of your kid. Don’t cut them out. Your kids desperately need them. If there’s something between you guys that is keeping this from happening, go and resolve it. This will not only benefit you, but your children, as well. Be adults and resolve the issue. Talk about the things that you need. You can give wisdom, but it needs to be in the context of relationships. Create an atmosphere at home that’s inviting and safe. And be prepared for some open and honest conversations as you spend time with your teens regularly—leaving them with a legacy of hope!