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It's Good to Be the Grandparent

by Dore Frances, IEC, founder of Horizon Family Solutions, LLC
We all remember how important the concept of privacy is when you're a teenager. From posting "Keep Out!" signs on your bedroom door to hiding your diary to pleading with your parents to leave you and your friends alone, part of growing up is individuating from your family. At the same time, I believe that teenagers need and want adult mentors and role models in their lives, whether it's a coach, parent, teacher, youth minister, youth worker, or friend of the family. Teens wanting their own space and being fiercely protective of it is normal. This is important to remember and balance with the responsibility of being a parent and your right to know what your teen is doing. I actually think you can find out more by asking about (instead of demanding to know) what your teen does. It's all about socializing. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, teenagers-male or female-must be from Pluto. At least that's how it may feel sometimes.

Teens speak a different language, dress in weird clothes, and have their heads perpetually wired to a wide array of audio/visual devices. They're also faced with very different challenges and problems than you were at their age.

Your biggest concerns were probably making the baseball or basketball team and passing algebra or science.

Today, teenage children are dealing with guns in the classroom and just saying "no." Despite this seemingly huge gap between your experiences, experts say that grandparents can connect with their teenage grandchildren.

Grandparents can be a voice of experience, love and reason, without the judgmental approach that colors so many interactions between teens and their parents. There's an advantage to being a grandparent.

Grandparents don't feel the same urgency to mold a kid as parents do. Because of this position, they can serve as a sounding board, sympathetic ear, and trusted confidante to the teenagers in their life. Grandparents will probably have more time to sit and listen than a parent will, especially in a two-career family. Creating a good relationship with your teenage grandchild isn't much different from getting along with anyone of any age. One of the key things to remember is that teens are yearning for independence. The more authority figures crack down, the more they pull away.

Don't take it for granted that you're a good conversationalist just because you can talk to your grandchild for hours on end; you need to be able to listen, too. Communication is very much a two-way street. In order to understand teenagers, you've got to understand what's going on with them. And that means asking questions and listening to the answers. Express interest in what they are doing, what music they're listening to, who they choose as friends, and what activities they're involved in. Though your grandchild may seem to belong to a different world to which you can't possibly relate, don't discount your ability to connect.

When you approach them with sincere interest and maintain an open mind, you'll likely find teens are willing to share and are pleased at your interest. When you're involved in a three-way relationship-you, your child and your grandchild-things can get a little tricky. Experts say it's important for you to realize where your responsibilities as a grandparent stop and the parent's responsibilities begin.

Keeping your distance doesn't mean you have to keep your mouth perpetually shut; it means you support your son's or daughter's role as a parent. You never want to undermine a parent's authority in front of their kid.

When you have concerns about your grandchild's behavior or his parent's choices, bring them up with the parent in a non-confrontational manner, in private. Other taboos?

Commenting in a negative manner on a parenting decision, or suggesting that your grandchild disregard what the parent has just decreed. Don't put the kid in the middle. When you do a good job relating to your grandchild, you may very well find yourself in the esteemed position of friend.

That's terrific when things are going well, but what do you do when your seventeen-year-old granddaughter confides that she thinks she's pregnant, and then adds, "But don't tell Mom and Dad-they'll kill me!"?

Knowing when to keep secrets and when to break your silence can be a tough call, but your grandchild's emotional and physical safety takes priority over confidentiality.

When it comes to any potential safety or health issue, there is no issue of confidentiality. If you're faced with one of these situations, let your grandchildren know they have a choice. They can break the news to their parents, or you'll do it. And if they force your hand, let them know upfront you're going to let their parents know. Despite the possible pitfalls, grandparenting a teen is a special role. Cherish it.

You provide a sense of continuity and history. You can be a shoulder to cry on and you provide reassurance and comfort in a mixed-up and dangerous world.

Dore Frances, IEC, is an educcational consultant, childs right advocate, parent coach, specializing in working with troubled teens and their families in the United States, Canda, and abroad. See her site at: or contact her by phone at:(541) 312-4422, or email
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Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.

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