Grandparents And Teens

Many families use their weekends to pay Sunday visits to aging grandparents. But parents of teens may have to struggle with their kids to convince them of the value of grandparent face time. Teens have all sorts of preconceptions about the elderly. James Ellor, director of the Center for Gerontological Studies at Baylor University says, "Teens can have some stereotypes of older folks—that they're cognitively slower, that they're stuck in the past, and that they're out-of-touch with today's world."

Why Bother?

Today's teen feels as though he doesn't share any common interest with his grandparents. Speaking to an audience of teens, Ellor stated, "You may assume that the older generation couldn't possibly understand the pressures and challenges youth face today and think, 'Why bother to even try to talk to them?' At the same time, your grandparents may be equally unsure of what to say to you, especially if they do fit the stereotype of the senior citizen who shuns technology and isn't up on today's music and entertainment."

Of course, there may be other reasons why teens have trouble getting close to their grandparents. Sometimes grandparents have difficulty with their memories, causing them to repeat themselves and this can make teens feel frustrated and uncomfortable. It's easy to see why the fast-paced life of a teen is hard to reconcile with a grandparent whose cognition, memory, and physical abilities seem to be winding down.

Emotional Support

Part of the key to encouraging a grandparent to grandchild bond is in showing your teen the value of the emotional support they may receive through this important relationship. Professor emerita Nancy Schlossberg of the University of Maryland puts it this way, "Because your parents are responsible for raising you, they can't always be supportive of your behavior. If you do something wrong, your parents are going to issue consequences."

On the other hand, grandparents "can act as a neutral adult with whom to talk." A grandparent is in a unique position. A grandparent loves the teen, but has no responsibility to punish him. The grandparent may not approve of a teen's behavior but has less trouble listening, since there's no compulsion to clean up the mess the teen has made by his actions. Knowing this, a teen can feel at ease and open up to a grandparent in ways he could never effect with his parents.

Valuable Lesson

It's a valuable lesson for teens to learn that grandparents don't have to be gray-haired and infirm. Today's grandparents tend to be more active and some are still quite involved with careers and active social lives. It's good for teens to see that the aging process doesn't mean that old people stop living.

On the other hand, it can be just as valuable for your teen to spend time with an elderly grandparent in frail health, since this teaches them empathy and appreciation for all the many skills teens may take for granted.


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