Ages & Stages: 11-18: Nurture Relationships Between Teens and Grandparents

Is your child’s lackadaisical attitude toward spending the night at her grandparent’s house bewildering? At 8 years old she longed to seek refuge from her siblings at Grandma’s house. Now, as a teen, you can hardly pry her away from her friends and the phone to spend an afternoon — let alone a good portion of the holidays — visiting her grandparents.

Children this age seldom realize the value of spending time with extended family members, and they lack the capacity to understand how their actions impact their loved ones. They are focused on friends, the latest styles and maintaining their grades.

However, grandparents and extended family offer immeasurable benefits to children of all ages. While it is not always easy, it is possible to help preserve the close relationship your teen shared with her grandparents as a young child. Your teen, and the grandparents, might simply need to bridge their very different worlds.

Find the Common Denominator
When polling 100 junior high and high school students in northwest Illinois, the No. 1 complaint cited by eight out of 10 teens is that visiting relatives is “boring.” “There’s nothing to do there” usually precedes a valiant pitch to stay behind on a trip to visit grandparents.

Despite thinking that spending time with family is only for holidays and special occasions, most teenagers have a similar interest, talent or characteristic as their grandparent. Look for common interests.

For example, if creativity is a shared trait, use that as the foundation to nurture this challenging phase of their relationship. You could help coordinate a scrap-booking project. They can spend hours poring over family photos, cataloging the generations and putting together family albums for each of them to cherish.

Or encourage them to put together a recipe book filled with both of their favorites. They can plan one weekend a month to spend together trying out new recipes or making their favorite dishes.
If your teen likes to go shopping, suggest a trip to the mall for lunch to share a day window-shopping with Grandma. They both can admire the latest fashions and enjoy the chance to get to know each other.

Hobbies or activities are another avenue to pursue on the quest to strengthen their relationship. Teens with a love of books can accompany their grandparent to explore new libraries, while others can share their penchant for vintage automobiles by frequenting auto shows or searching for auto parts.

Park districts and community colleges offer a variety of classes and seminars for your teen and her grandparent to participate in together if they live nearby. A chance to learn a new language, investigate the art of pottery or explore nature photography together not only introduces a new hobby into their lives, it opens the door to spending time learning about the other person.

Soft-spoken children can enjoy quiet times spent with their grandparents writing poetry, doing crossword puzzles or simply taking a walk. As they spend time together, your teen will once again realize the comfort and unconditionally loving environment that time spent with her grandparents affords her.
She will appreciate the chance to take a break from her friends and the pressures of coping with all the emotional and physical changes she’s experiencing and grow to value the opportunity to unwind.

Nurture Long-Distance Relationships
A relationship with teens and out-of-town grandparents presents additional challenges. Technology-savvy teens and grandparents can keep in touch via e-mail or instant messenger services. Encourage your teen to send copies of report cards or newspaper clippings that feature her accomplishments. Purchase phone cards or sign up for a family long-distance calling plan to give them the chance to chat as long as they like.

Purchase a journal for them to send back and forth. They can take turns writing in it for two to three weeks. At the end of their turn, they mail it to the other person to add their thoughts and read what’s been added. Your teen can find out what her grandparents do during the day, whom they visit and how they’re feeling. They each can share favorite stories about the family or each other, as well as ask questions or play word games together.

The journal will chronicle both of their lives and offer your teen a chance to look back at these years when she’s an older. She’ll fondly re-read the exchanges and will look forward to reminiscing about the experience with her own children when she’s an adult.

When she’s long past her teen years, your child will reflect on the treasured closeness shared with her grandparents. She’ll be thankful not only for the wonderful memories, but for your help in preserving their connection.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer and mom.