5 Rules to Get the Conversation Started
“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. I have 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!
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.
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.)
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 principle 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.
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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