How to Grandparent an Adolescent | By Barbara DeGrande
Having a good relationship with a grandparent is tremendously important for the emerging adolescent. One of the duties of the teenager is to forge an independent identity, to discover who they are separate from their parents. As they begin to take steps away from the family, they need a good listening ear and the wisdom of someone who has traversed life’s stages successfully. As a grandparent, you may be removed enough from their struggle for independence to be non-threatening. If you have already developed a solid relationship, your grandchild may turn to you for help in understanding their difficult parents or their anxious peers.
Learning to affirm your grandchild without giving a stamp of approval to inappropriate behaviors is part of the challenge of grandparenting. It is important for your grandchild to be encouraged to obey their family cultural norms while at the same time letting them know you understand their feelings, their objections and their struggles. Sometimes a brief word or two is all it takes to feel heard or understood. “It’s hard at times, isn’t it?” or some other neutral acknowledgment can mean the world to a youth who feels the world is against him.
Sharing a story from you own past is one way of passing culture and experience through the generations. Humorous, delightful, challenging, embarrassing or proud moments in your life can help your teen learn that life goes on and that people can overcome tremendous obstacles. Learning not to take themselves too seriously may help them weather those adolescent storms. If you have them handy, share pictures of yourself at their age; it will help them understand that this is just a stage and is not forever. Witnessing the perspective from someone with decades of living may also help them learn to put events into a more realistic place in their own life, something their brief years do not yet allow.
Keep in mind the fragility of the adolescent years. While it is a time of drama, excitement and exploration, it is also a time when budding young egos may dissolve. Troubled childhoods feel like forever to someone who has only known dependency and the trials of growing up. Suicide is high among teens, so be sure to take action if you witness any of the warning signs:
- Loss of interest in normal activities (anhedonia)
- Substance abuse, including alcohol and drug (illegal and legal drugs) use
- Behavioral problems
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in personal appearance
- Physical complaints (somatic)
- Loss of concentration
- Failing grades in school
- Risky behaviors
- Complaints of boredom
- Sudden cheer following depression
If your grandchild ever discusses feelings of suicide, take them seriously and get them professional help. If they are dealing with any extreme trauma such as history of sexual abuse, drug dependency or alcoholism in the family, loss, betrayal, sexual identity or homosexuality, loss of peer support, isolation, victimization or bullying, they may need additional support. You can become part of their solid support as a caring, adult, trustworthy person in their life and may help them discover other ways to increase their security in their community.
The legacy you leave through your relationships may become an important part of your grandchild’s view of interpersonal connections, their sense of self, and their positive emerging adult identity. Show respect for them as an individual and honor their attempts at independence, while helping them learn to take those steps in a manner that is safe and productive. Enjoy this time of sharing and support. It may be some of the most rewarding times of your life as well as some of the most meaningful for your teen grandchild.
Barbara DeGrande is a writer, blogger, program developer and therapist (MFT) with years of experience with children and families.
Professional blog is http://barbaradegrande.blogspot.com.
Personal blog is http://veganacious.com.
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