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Become Your Grandchild’s Biggest Fan

Chores Foster Responsibility

The Long Distance Grandmother: How to Stay Close to Distant Grandchildren

The Nanas and Papas: A Boomer’s Guide to Grandparenting

byTerri Bittner

Grandparents can enrich a teenager's life in many ways. The problem is that many teens find visits to grandparents dull and try to avoid spending time with them.

In our house, every Thursday is Grandma Day. Whether our teens feel like it or not, they go to spend the day with Grandma. We generally take her shopping, so they object somewhat less than they might otherwise.

If a grandparent is older and perhaps in poor health or in a poor mental state, it is important to help your teen learn who their grandparent was in younger days. They may have no memory of the grandparent as anything more than she is right now. Show your teens pictures of their grandparents as young people and tell them the stories you know about their childhoods, teen years and young adult years. It can be surprising to teens that a frail grandparent was once homecoming queen, an athlete or an artist.

If the grandparent is able to share her own life with the teen, ask your teens to assist in creating a genealogy of the family, including the life story of their grandparent. As a family, create a list of questions you want to ask and then divide them into small, related chunks. It is often difficult to cover too much ground at once, so keep the interviews short. Children can take turns visiting the grandparent and doing the interviews with the help of a tape recorder. Be sure to preserve the tapes, even after the biography is written. It can also be special to videotape the interviews, creating a memory that will become more valuable to the teen as he gets older.

Ask grandparents to work with teens on a project. Does the grandparent have a hobby or talent he can share with your teen? Passing on these skills preserves a legacy, which allows the teen to someday tell his grandchild, "My grandmother taught me to crochet and now I'm teaching you. It's becoming a family tradition."
When a teen comes to you for advice, consider sending him to a grandparent. Suggest that the grandparent has a better perspective on the situation--as a parent you are too close. This can promote closeness as well as foster self-esteem. A parent often feels compelled to be critical; a grandparent can be accepting with no need to correct.
Instead of being the family news bearer, send your child to pass along news himself. "Call your grandmother. She will be so excited that you made the team. Tell her we'll take her to your first game."

Building the relationship is more difficult when the grandparent has dementia and cannot communicate easily with the child. Help your teen to understand the grandparent's illness and how to work with him. Bring your teen to meetings with doctors and encourage him to ask questions. Your teen can participate in the life of this grandparent through service. Encourage him to bring or make decorations and gifts to give the grandparent-photos and drawings for the nursing home walls, collages, poems and stories to read and display. Help your teen plan things to talk about-anything of interest to him. Explain that it is possible the grandparent understands more than is believed. This is also true of grandparents who are unconscious. Teens can also bring books to read to their grandparent, or photo albums to share together. Have your teen demonstrate a talent to his grandparent and talk about it together.

If a grandparent lives far away, here are some suggestions:

  • Consider purchasing a computer for the grandparent who does not have one. Hook them to the Internet as a gift and have the teen keep in touch through email and chat rooms.
  • Set up a private web page where your teen and the grandparent can each have a section in which to display pictures, messages, stories and more. Splurge on telephone calls.
  • Mail school papers, newspaper clippings and other items to the grandparent. Encourage your teen to write to his grandparents--using real paper and pencils. In this day of email, that is probably a unique educational experience.

If you home school, consider having the grandparents teach a mini-class or discuss recent history with your teen. Reading about World War II is interesting... talking to a grandparent who lived through it is even better.

Ask teenagers to “serve” their grandparents. We love those we serve. Teens can run errands using their brand new driver's license prepare food, clean house and walk with a frail relative. Encourage them to watch for opportunities to serve, and teach them how to do it gracefully and cheerfully. Remind them that it is important for the relative to feel that the child is happy to serve.

Don't allow your teen to grow up wishing he had known his grandparents better. He does not have to initially think they are cool, but with time and service, a close relationship can develop between them.

This article first appeared on Suite101.com (http://www.suite101.com) and was reproduced with permission from the author.

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