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What grandparents need to know about connecting with their grandchildren

Last week, we identified several factors that can enhance the relationship between grandparents and teenage grandchildren, based on research studies. This week, we offer some tips and more.

Grandparents play a special role for adolescent grandchildren. The teen years often are a time of turmoil which makes the grandparent role even more important. The unconditional love and acceptance by grandparents may be a natural sanctuary from stress at home or at school, according to Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, founder of the Foundation for Grandparenting and author of “The Grandparent Solution” (Jossey Bass, 2004).

Let’s acknowledge the conundrum. Grandchildren are growing up, becoming more independent and may value their friends over some family. In addition to their social life, teens are busy with homework, exams, sports and drama, and they often have a tight schedule. It is easy for grandparents to feel on the periphery of their grandchildren’s world.

Technology can be one of the generational divides. Emails are out and texting is in. Chatting is likely to be on social media sites like Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok, to name a few. The texting acronyms can be hard to decipher including “IDK” which means, “I don’t know”, “J4F” which means “just for fun,” and “PTB” which is another way of saying, “please text back.”

Every generation brings on its new trends. Today, there are Air Jordan sneakers, oversized hoodies, sweatpants, slides, which are slippers for the outdoors, cropped and oversized shirts and short party dresses with high-end sneakers. Tomorrow, who knows?

Donna M. Butts, executive director of Generations United is quoted in the Stanford Medicine Children’s Health blog, as saying, “It may take patience and acceptance to develop that relationship, but if you can get past the stereotypes, you see that both ages need to feel needed, listened to and acknowledged.”

A first step is to arrange some one-to-one time together without parents. When the parents are present, the dynamics change and the grandparent can get lost.

Here are some tips:

See a play, movie or sporting event: Have your grandchild help select the event. Afterward, go out to eat and talk about what you saw. Ask for his or her opinion and listen without interrupting.

Explore nature: That could include hiking, fishing, sightseeing or exploring some of the botanical gardens in the greater Los Angeles area and even beyond. Take lots of photos to remember your time together.

Teach each other: Here is a personal example. My 13-year-old granddaughter is a computer whiz and has helped me with my iPhone, Mac and tablet. I, in turn, have taught her how to knit with some help from the Internet.

Tell family stories: That could include parents’ skirmishes, family history which might include immigration, first jobs and more. I recall telling my grandchildren their grandfather’s high school teacher told him he couldn’t write. Wrong – he became a journalist for the Baltimore Sun and wrote for the New York Times.

Take a trip: This is a golden opportunity to relate, explore and share new experiences. That can be going to a concert, play or museum in Los Angeles or Irvine or a trip to Santa Barbara or New York. There is something special for a grandparent to experience something new or familiar through the eyes of a child with both experiencing a sense of wonder.

Connect on social media: We know 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone; 45 percent indicate they are online almost constantly. Surveys have shown that the average age for children to get their first cellphone in the United States is 10. Learn about the technologies your grandchildren are using.

Show up: Let your grandchild or grandchildren know you are there. Attend school events such as sporting events, plays and debates. Have a regular lunch date with a menu your grandchild enjoys. Just have a good time together.

Look at old albums: Yes, there was a time when photos were printed. The traditional photo album where you turn the pages to see what’s next can give one a sense of adventure and permanence. These could be baby pictures, family vacations, wedding photos and more.

Here’s a personal tip. I have taken each grandchild on one or several trips. Each time I make a book out of our photos and present it to them at holiday time, using Snapfish or Shutterfly. They serve as a living memory of good times together.

D.S., I hope these suggestions are helpful. Enjoy your 13-year-old granddaughter and know kindness continues to be everything.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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