Talking to Your Teenage Grandchildren

Illustration of angry teenager with mother standing nearby, How to talk to your teenage grandchildren, Adventures in NanaLand


I don’t want to talk right now!”

“But, honey, I just wanted to know how your day went.”

“I told you it was fine. Isn’t that good enough!”

Sound familiar? That’s the exchange I heard between our almost teen-aged grandchild and one of his parents. “Wow!”, I thought, “When it comes to talking to teenagers, things just haven’t changed that much.” However, as grandparents, we have a bit of an advantage with talking to our teenage grandchildren that we didn’t have with our own children. . .we are NOT their parents!!

I don’t know what it is about teenagers and parents; there just seems to be a mistrust of information. Maybe it’s because kids always think that their parents are looking for something to be wrong with them. Their self esteem is hanging by a thread. And often they see their parents standing over them with the proverbial scissors ready to cut them down.

However, as grandparents, we usually come off as a bit more understanding and not quite as threatening. I mean, after all, we don’t hold the keys to their curfew or their car. That puts us in a unique position to open up the doors of communication with them and possibly even impart some wisdom from time to time.

But how do you get them to talk to you? Getting inside a teenager’s world is more than difficult. It takes great love and a little bit of skill to gain their trust.

Here are 5 rules that I use that might help you the next time you try talking to your teenage grandchildren:

Rule #1 for Talking to Teenage Grandchildren – Be a Good Listener

The first rule when dealing with anyone but especially teenagers is that you have to be a good listener. Because there is a little bit of a gap in the generations between you and them, you need to practice listening with an open mind. Some of what your teenage grandchildren might talk about will seem a little foreign. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when they talk about some new technology or class they have in school. They might giggle a bit as they are explaining things to you, but if you laugh at yourself, it will bond the two of you.


Rule #2 for Talking to Teenage Grandchildren – Be Interested in Them

Speaking of asking questions, be interested in what’s happening in their lives. Ask questions that require more than just a one-word answer. Instead of asking a question like: “What’s going on at school?” (Because we all know the answer to that one – “Nothing.”) But if you ask, “Can you tell me about your math class? I wonder how it compares to what I learned in high school.” (If you haven’t asked this question, believe me when I say that this one was a real eye opener!!)  This gives you a real conversation starter. It’s not only showing interest in what they are learning, but it gives them a chance to learn about you also. This will give you a way to bridge that generation gap.

Above all, keep the focus on them. Yes, you can share your experiences, but only as it relates to them. They tend to fall back into an ego-centric world as they enter those turbulent teenage years. As soon as you lose focus on them, they will return the favor!

“Getting inside a teenager’s world is more than difficult. It takes great love and a little bit of skill to gain their trust.”

Rule #3 for Talking to Teenage Grandchildren – Don’t Judge

The next rule is to not be judgmental. No matter what they tell you, don’t judge their motives or their way of doing things. Remember that they are learning how to navigate their teenage years on their journey to becoming adults. Let them do it on their own terms. If you judge them, laugh or scoff at anything they tell you, I promise they will never open up to you again. However, don’t be quiet about it either, because anything you don’t say will be interpreted as the worst possible scenario. Don’t let them assume you are judging them. Speak up! Let them know that you accept them, and that you are proud of them.

Grandparent Moment

My grandmother who lived with us most of my life, was a great example of this. When I faced my biggest challenge as a teenager, I was worried that she would judge me for such a big mistake.  But what do you know? It was my grandmother who stood up for me with my parents. She taught my parents that they needed to extend a great amount of unconditional love towards me if I was going to make it through this tough time. Thanks, Grandma!! (As it turns out, I found out after my grandmother’s death that she went through a similar challenge as a young woman. Although she never told me herself, her experience helped me through a time when I needed love and not judgment.)

Teenage boy sitting on bench playing cards with grandfather, How to talk to your teenage grandchildren, Adventures in NanaLand

Rule #4 for Talking to Teenage Grandchildren – Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice

You have years of wisdom over them, but they don’t want to hear it. . . at least, not right now. Once you build a relationship of trust with them – and reach a certain level of comfort when talking to your teenage grandchildren – they will eventually ask for your advice and respect what you have to say. But. . .you have to earn that privilege. And just for the record, almost no one wants unsolicited advice, including your own kids, so let’s just get past that right now.

In the meantime, you could ask some leading questions about the situation asking them how they are going to handle it. You could help guide the conversation with other questions, but tread lightly. And, if they do ask for your opinion, leave room for negotiation. Do not act like a know-it-all and that your way is the only way. If you do, you can bet that talking to your teenage grandchildren will be nothing more than “Merry Christmas!” and “Thank you for the sweater!”

In other words, don’t try to solve their problems for them, just help them discover the solutions for themselves. It will help them feel better about using their own judgment, teach them some coping skills, and prepare them better to solve problems on their own.


Rule #5 for Talking to Teenage Grandchildren – Keep Confidences

The last rule might be one of the most difficult to navigate. Keep their confidences. It might be tempting to make jokes about a situation or decision that they have made. However, if you do, they may not want to tell you anything ever again.

Another Grandparent Moment

One of our Littles was with us on vacation. I was hiking with the two boys and my sister-in-law one morning. Something happened that was actually quite funny, but my little 10-year-old begged me not to tell Papa. I said that Papa would think it was funny and asked why I shouldn’t tell him. My sweet Little said, “He will make fun of me in front of everyone.” I could see that that would be upsetting for him. So, I kept the confidence, and he eventually told his Papa on his own terms when he was ready. Then, we all had a good laugh. . .including him.

What If You Can’t Keep Their Secret. . .

Just a word of caution. When talking to your teenage grandchild, they might let you in on a secret that can’t be kept. If you break this confidence, they may never trust you again. However, if you keep this to yourself, someone may get hurt. So what do you do? Well, I’m sorry to say that there is no clear-cut answer because it depends on the situation and the people involved. However, there is advice from some experts that could help.

  1. Shhh! It’s a Secret!
    Hopefully, your grandchild would preface the information by letting you know it is a secret or a confidence before they tell you. If they ask you not to tell, you could let them know that without knowing the situation or the people involved, you cannot make that promise. Then they can decide whether or not to let you in on their secret.
  2. DON’T freak out!
    Don’t act shocked even if it shakes you to your core. Stay calm and keep your thoughts collected. You don’t want your grandchild to be sorry they told you.
  3. To Tell or Not to Tell
    If the situation involves a non-threatening situation or no immediate harm, you could ask your grandchild to encourage the person (if it is someone else) to get help from a person in authority like a parent, clergy, or counselor. Or encourage the child to talk to one of those people themselves if it is their issue.ORIf it is a life-threatening or harmful situation that cannot go unreported, you need to let your grandchild know why it MUST be reported so that they or their friend does not get hurt. Explain to them that you can report something anonymously so that your grandchild does not experience any social repercussions over it. Explain that in the long run, they may be saving the person from further harm.

Here’s an example from my life:

When one of my sons was a teenager, the principal at his junior high got a message that my son was thinking about suicide. The note was anonymous, but I am so grateful to this day that some kid at school was willing to tell. It opened up an avenue for us to get our son some help before it was too late. I believe my son was relieved too, because he didn’t know how to tell us how he was feeling.

And Yet One More Grandparent Moment

This son’s grandfather (my father) was a lighthouse in the storm for him. You see, my father suffered from depression most of his life. Through building a connection with my son, he was non-judgmental, and always had a listening ear when my son was having a bad day.  My father was compassionate and didn’t give any advice unless my son asked. He truly understood him. He was able to offer hope and comfort for a better tomorrow to an adolescent that thought he wasn’t going to survive today.

How to talk to your teenage grandchildren, Adventures in NanaLa

The Moral of the Story?

Don’t be afraid to talk to your teen-aged grandchildren. Just follow these simple rules and let the conversations begin! However, don’t expect miracles. It may take some time to build that trust or relationship.

Remember to ask questions that show you are interested in their lives, but don’t be nosy. You will find that the conversations become easier and more frequent. And, after a while. . .maybe your grandchild will start the conversations.

At any rate, that little teenager will know that they have a friend in you. That way, they will always know that you will be there for them when they need it. What a great gift for any teenager!

If you are looking for a little more on the subject, I recently read a new book by Jane Isay. Her book is called Unconditional Love and it has some great ideas to “navigate the challenges of being a grandparent today.” The book was great for those who are new to grandparenting.

I really needed an easy read and this book was honest and insightful with wonderful little stories. I’m not sure I agree with her premise that grandparenting is a “second chance to become the parent [you] didn’t have the time or the energy to be when raising [your] own children.” Some of you may remember my 10 Commandments for Grandparents where I stated that grandparenting is NOT a do over. Other than that, I really loved her book!

You may have another approach that has worked for talking to your teenage grandchildren. Let us know in the comments below. You never know, maybe your comment will be just the right thing for the next person who reads this post. 😉

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30 thoughts on “Talking to Your Teenage Grandchildren”

  1. Hi I loved your article I don’t know where to start I have 3 grandchildren – granddaughter almost 16
    Grandson aged 14
    Granddaughter aged 12. Before last year we spent a lot of time with them in their home and always had them totally to us for 2 weeks each summer. But their parents now have a trailer in the grandparents campground and needless to say they would rather be there because they get paid to work there. I thought we were close before they became teenagers but now when we visit they are either at their friends , on their phones or in their rooms – when they come here they stay pretty close to their mother either watching utube or talking their parents to go shopping with them – no grandparents allowed. I am at my wits end because never had to do anything special to feel loved now it seems that I am not even wanted. My husband just thinks I’m imagining things but I can see it bothers him as well. Please please help me out so I can once again feel that I actually mean something to them!!!

    1. Oh Mavis, I completely understand your frustration and sadness. But… don’t worry too much. It sounds like you created a wonderful relationship early on but you have to respect their space now that they are teenagers. They’re likely just expressing their independence. I felt this same way when my kids were teenagers. I worried because I thought we had a good relationship when they were young, but during their teen years they were too busy to enjoy the things we did just a few years before. I was worried that I was losing them. What actually happened was that our relationship was evolving. When they emerged from those teenage years, they were young adults and although our relationship had changed, it was just as sweet as before just in a new way. I now had to learn to relate to them as adults. My oldest grandchildren are now growing through this same stage. I continue to show my love for them and just try to keep that connection in any form and as frequently as it won’t be too invasive. I try to support them in sports, school, and other things they’re involved in as much as I can. Sometimes, that means just sending a text wishing them good luck in their game or on a test in school.
      One of the most difficult things in life is being able to accept changing relationships. Just know that because you’ve built a good foundation for your relationship, that should continue to be there underneath it all to build a wonderful adult relationship with them in a few years. Don’t give up and don’t stress. Be there and show you care even when they don’t show it back. Patience and time will likely resolve the situation.

      1. Thank you so much. Mavis and I are in the same boat, however, your explanation helps so much. I have cried so many times lately because I have been so involved in my
        Grandkids lives that now I feel like I’m just not important to them. Now I understand about the stage they are at. I would never stop loving them or being involved as much as they want. Thank you Jill. A grateful Meme

        1. I’m so glad it helped, Teri. Hopefully you’ve built a strong foundation which will carry you through these rough patches. Hang in there!

      2. Thank you for the advice I will try to follow through with it, but it is difficult not to be able to see them when I want to. I envy those who have their grandchildren living close so they can interact with each separately whereas when we travel it’s to see all of the family and cannot take one without the others going as well. I keep praying that one day I will be able to treat them all good but differently

  2. We don’t
    I’ve close to our granddaughters, 14 & 10, so I try to make the most of my time with them. I’ve discovered that there’s lots of tension between the girls and their dad. He wasn’t raised in a two parent house and didn’t have a good dad example. I think as a result, he wants his kids to be perfect…or be like he thinks he is. There’s always been a lot of criticism with him…and now with the 14 year old, it’s especially frustrating to watch. He doesn’t like her choice of clothes… style is wrong, colors are wrong, “too much like a boy. This does nothing but make her more determined to “be herself”…which I get. She’s wanting her independence, and make her own decisions, but I understand Dads point too.

    They recently moved so she’s at a new school where she knew no one, so there’s that too. She seems to be drawing attention from the wrong kids, whose parents pay no attention to them and let them do whatever they want. My daughter is on top of vetting parents, but she’s looked at as the “bad guy”…which I guess is normal with a teenager.

    I’ll be spending about 10 days with them soon while the parents take a trip. My mind is spinning as to how to best relate to them and earn their trust, but impart some wisdom as well. Suggestions?
    I enjoyed your advise in this article…and will reread it several times.

    Thanks so much….

  3. I’m glad I found this tips for grandparents . It’s very helpful. My husband and I raised our granddaughter, we were very close and had a good time before get teenage year , but when she turned 17, things changed, she spends less time with us and less communication. Her parents are divorced. We don’t know what happened.

  4. Very helpful information!!!
    So glad I found this !!!
    Thank You,

    1. So happy to have you here, Lisa! I’m grateful that you found something that you can use. Enjoy your grandchildren!

  5. Jude Rushton

    We have been blessed with grandaughters aged 14, 6 and 2 and a grandson of 12 (on the spectrum but wonderfully bright).
    The siblings aged 14 and 12 always beg to stay with us during the school holidays. When they were younger, as we sat together for dinner, we would ask them “What was your best thing today? What was your worst thing? and “What are you grateful for?” Everyone around the table would verbalise these things.
    Now they are older and we can FaceTime with them as well as have them to stay, we still find out their best and worst things (some make our hair curl!) but also have a ‘Gratitude Jar’ (an old glass preserve jar). At the end of each week we have a piece of paper, date it, and write their answers (and ours) on this. It is folded up and placed in the jar. We have arranged that on New Year’s Eve when we’re together we will open the jar and will all randomly pick a paper to unfold and read what our Gratitude Year has looked like.

    Despite the pandemic and the atrocities of the war against Ukraine there have been some beautiful answers from the children from “I’m grateful that Mum and Dad work really hard to have enough money to send us to a good school where I’m not bullied anymore.” and “I’m grateful that I went on surf camp and did a 180 on my board!” to “I’m grateful that you are still here, Grandad even though you tell the worst Dad-jokes!” (my husband has terminal cancer) and “I’m grateful that we don’t have to wear masks in church anymore so we can sing properly!”
    I am constantly amazed by the hearts of these two and their thoughtfulness and care. Like, “I’m grateful that you didn’t have a migraine this week Granny”, “I’m grateful that we live in a safe country and that the Ukrainians are not giving up and even some of the Russians are telling Putin to stop the war.” and “I’m grateful we went to the city (Melbourne) on Friday night and gave out the bags we had put things in to give to the rough sleepers. And I’m grateful that one sang a song for us.”
    I’m going to start this with my littlest grandaughters shortly because it’s never to late to teach and learn gratitude.

    Ona note from me, I am grateful for you Jill and for your ‘Adventures in Nana Land’, for your godly wisdom, advice and downloads to help us grow ever closer to our grandchildren.
    May you be blessed by God for blessing us in this way.

    1. Oh Jude! I don’t even know where to start. This is fabulous! I love the idea of keeping a gratitude jar all year and then bringing it out at the end of the year with the grandkids. Your grandchildren sound like they have a handle on what’s going on around them. That’s a blessing in and of itself. I’m sorry to hear about your husband. Enjoy every minute you get to spend together. I lost my father to cancer back in 2016. I still miss him everyday. But, we have found wonderful ways to honor him and the memories he left us.

      Thank you for your sweet compliment. It makes my heart so happy to hear that sharing helps others build relationships with their family. ❤️ Bless you in your efforts to lead your family and leave them your wonderful legacy!

    2. Annie Gilberg

      Jude, that was so beautifully said, I loved every word ❤️! When raising my kids I made a grateful jar also. I was amazed to see the hearts of my kids open so easily and happily. Their thoughtfulness, mindful caring and love blossomed! Thank you for sharing !

  6. I’m the proud MeMaw of eight grandchildren. My oldest granddaughter recently vented about her mom to me and I was not sure how to respond. I have another granddaughter who shared some unsettling behavior from her dad. Help! I feel so honored that they talk to me and want to always be a soft place to land. I want to keep them safe and be an awesome grandma. I did not have this close of a relationship with my grandmother so this is uncharted territory.

    1. Joanna Strickland

      Maybe ask them to feel free to call anytime they need to talk. Set up a “regular” timeframe to talk. If the conversations continue to be about the same subject, then it would be an opportunity to ask if they feel comfortable to discuss your thoughts of the situation. Maybe bring up what you have been thinking about after you were told. What actions could be taken and that you will respect their wishes up and to any point whatever is going on is physically and/or mental abuse. I would also emphasize that you are happy to just have the best, most comfortable relationship and you are a soft landing whenever things get rough.

  7. My granddaughter and I have a pretty open diolog when it comes to pretty much everything. She is 15 years old. Lately she has been confused about her sexuality. She has some girlfriends who say they are bi sexual and there is so much of this on TV these days. She has never acted as tomboyish as she has since hanging with these girls. I believe she tries to fit in where she can. She has never had a boyfriend and all her previous girlfriends have. She has a lot of friends, just not many close friends. She has no problem communicating with the boys, as a matter of fact, her friends, girls and boys, like to hang out at our house. I feel very lucky for that. I don’t want things to change with us, but I don’t know how to help her find herself comfortably. She drowns herself in Anime, when she is feeling down, which is a lot.

    1. Susan, it sounds like you have built a relationship with your granddaughter that will undoubtedly prove to be invaluable to both of you. It’s so hard to watch when you see your children or grandchildren going down paths that you worry will end in unhappiness.

      This may be a good time for you to open a discussion about friends and influences. She needs to remember that if she’s “in their car,” she’s going where they’re going. That may help her open up to you more about discovering what SHE really wants and needs as opposed to maybe just going along with the crowd or what’s popular – maybe they are the same thing. . .but maybe they are not. Only she can ultimately decide.

      I would simply suggest that you stay by her side to help guide her and support her in whatever decision she makes. Avoid unsolicited advice but be open to giving her the wisdom of your years if she asks. Good luck and blessing for both of you!

  8. Douglas Smith

    Our grandchildren are 18,16, and 13. I am their grandfather. I am saddened and disappointed that not one of them has expressed sympathy or curiosity about
    The recent death of my youngest sister and the imminent death of my middle sister. I feel that I can’t
    Express this disappointment to their mother who is my daughter, nor their father. They tend to take things personally or as criticism when it comes to others expressing concerns relative to their kids. Do you have any advice for me?

    1. Boy, that’s a tough one, Douglas. Something I’ve learned about teenagers over the years is that they don’t always respond the way we think they should. I’ve come to understand that they don’t always develop the emotional maturity that we wish they had. Four years ago, I lost my father and this year, I lost my very special aunt. The grandkids knew I was sad but they didn’t really show any emotion themselves. I did have one of the younger ones come and hug me when they saw me crying. However, they didn’t show much interest beyond that.

      When it comes to speaking to the parents, my only suggestion would be to tread lightly. Most parents are pretty protective of their children. So, maybe you could approach it from a standpoint of asking how the kids are handling the situation. This year has been so unstable for these kids. Perhaps, you should just ask the kids how they feel about the situation. Don’t wait for them to make the first move, because they probably won’t. But, you could open up a conversation and see how they respond. Don’t push, just gently lead the conversation.

      Good luck with your grandchildren, and I’m sorry for your loss.

  9. Was looking for some advice have 15 year old granddaughter who has been through lot last couple years. I’ve asked her to have counselling but she won’t. Am a bit worried about her. She just says she fine.

  10. We bought a house in February with our son and his family, a 16 year old boy, 12 year old girl and a 5 year old boy. We kept the 2 older ones when they were little and had a very loving relationship.
    But since moving in together the 2 older ones resent us and barely talk to their grandpa. The devide grows deeper each day until my husband is bitter and iis beginning not to care. We are in our middle 70’s and this hurts. Any suggestions.

    1. Oh Sybil, I’m sure this really is a difficult situation for both of you. . .especially after having those two when they were younger.

      What I know about teenagers is that they often revert to being very ego-centric (you know, like when they were 2 and 3 years old). I don’t know what the circumstance is that has brought you all to living together, but maybe the teens are struggling with the idea of living in a multi-generational household. Or perhaps there are other circumstances that they are struggling with that have nothing to do with you and your husband at all. You may just have to wait it out.

      In the meantime, try to get your husband to take the high road and not let bitterness ruin a possible future relationship. I went through the same thing with my daughter. I thought she hated me when she was a teen, but she had issues that she had to work through on her own, and I continued to just quietly be there for her. I’m happy to say that we are now very good friends as adults.

      You may try to meet these two on their own turf so to speak. Find out their favorite dessert place and take them there. Definitely, get away from the house – change up the environment. Ask one or two questions that truly show you are interested in them (and don’t talk about yourself at all). Then, just listen. Sometimes teenagers just need to know that they are seen and truly heard. (FYI, you may need to do this more than once to get them talking – make it a date.) After you get them to open up a bit, maybe it will spark more conversations in the future to get to the root of the problem.

      Above all, just keep loving them in spite of your instincts to become bitter or resentful yourselves. The results may not be immediate, but you can never go wrong by loving them. It will make you happier in the long run.

      Let me know how it goes! You are welcome to email me at jill @ adventuresinnanaland {dot} com.

    2. Michelle

      Hi ,Sybil you and your husband are great grand parents, we all need to praying is good for all us. That what I have to do too. To stay positive in what we all do, if you have kids their also , let your adult children be the parents for ur grandkids, You and your husband do what y’all love, maybe take some kind vacation or find a place for a time off, just do reverse psychology on the kids don’t put no rules on any one, even do you have rules. Don’t let them know that. Don’t tell him anything ahead of time when you want them to do something or ask him a question just ask them right there and then and then change the subject but there’s ways of saying things you just got to say a different ways like act like them if they cry cry with them they laugh they laugh with them they talk back talk back with them but make it fun make everything fun fun even though it’s not fun but it’ll get better. We are going though changes sometimes changes are good big grandparents don’t be parents. Don’t make things harder for your guys do what y’all love to do y’all just worry about yourself the kids are there with their parents it is worried about you and your husband and doing fun things for yourself and then the kids will come around I’ll be praying for you guys and have fun ,and I choose to have fun and stay happy.

  11. Ruth Hunt

    Great ideas! My teenage grandchildren all live out of state and I do not see them often. This has made communication a challenge. I hope to use your tips on asking more specific questions and see if I can get a dialogue going.

    1. Ruth, it makes me sad when I hear that grandchildren live far away, and you don’t get to see them often. I hope you can keep building those relationships even from a distance. Teens are so hard to get talking, aren’t they? Just don’t give up trying. Maybe you will have some luck with texting them! You may want to try some of our suggestions from one of our Long Distance Nana posts. Thanks for stopping by!!

  12. such an important issue. We are often a safety net for our teen grands–someone they can talk to without judgment, if we can just get that conversation going.

    1. Thank you for your insight! I like that you compared grandparents to a “safety net.” Isn’t that our goal for all the children in our lives? We want so desperately to keep them safe. Our family has witnessed too many of our friends who have lost their teen children to suicide. Parenting is such a tough job. It’s wonderful when you can add that extra generation of protection. Yes, let’s get those conversations going!

  13. Great advice Jill. I drive my 15-year-old grandson to school each day. Sometimes he’s more talkative than others, but I love the alone time with him either way. Each morning I used to say “How was your evening.” It was always, “Fine.” Now I ask, “What’s one thing that made you smile last night?” He may be just indulging his grandma, but he always answers with something that gives me a peek into his home life and sometimes leads to conversation. I know he’ll be driving soon and moving on to high school, which means a change in our routine, so I’m savoring this last year of Grandma’s Taxi.

    1. Christie, you’re definitely doing something right if you can get a 15-year-old boy talking. Way to go, Grandma! I love that you get to start your day with each other. That’s a gift for both of you.
      Car rides are such a great opportunity to have a “captive” audience. I always turn the music off, so my Littles know that they have my attention. And. . .if they won’t talk, I start singing. Ha ha! That usually breaks the ice and gets them to laugh (or sing with me), and will get the conversation moving. I love your “Grandma’s Taxi.” I think I need to put that on my minivan!!
      Keep up the great work, Christie! It sounds like you are building a priceless relationship with your grandson.

  14. Bree Holyoak

    I loved these tips! I’m not a grandparent, but my daughter is just hitting that hard preteen stage and these tips are great! I’m so grateful to have run across this post! I’ll definitely be keeping these things in mind when dealing with my own children and grandchildren, when I have them. Thanks!

    1. Ah, the preteen stage! Indeed, it seems to start too soon! I’m glad you found us too! I hope these tips will help you with opening up or to keep the conversation going with your daughter. It’s so important these days with all the time our kids spend behind their screens. Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

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