Focus on the Family


by Karen Knudson

Do you ever feel tongue-tied around young people, completely unable to relate to the teenagers and college students of today? Do you shake your head in despair, shocked by the disrespect and blatant rebellion of so-called Generation Y?

Indeed, popular culture today depicts a troubled relationship between the older and younger members of society. Grandparents often view children as wild and undisciplined while young people see their elders as out of touch and irrelevant. If you have tasted even a little of this intergenerational conflict, take heart, because you can build healthy, mentoring relationships with young people. In fact, teenagers and college kids need you in their lives. But in order to establish good relationships with young people, there are some points to keep in mind.


Many stereotypes of teenagers today are grounded in some truth. Contemporary culture indeed breeds disrespect — of history, authority, ideals, the weak, property and others. In addition, many children do tend to be lazy, hedonistic and extremely self-focused, saturated with a "Here we are now, entertain us" mentality.

But young people today are also tremendously honest. They are open about their doubts, sins, passions and dreams. They are also confused, vulnerable and searching desperately for meaning. Having been raised in a society that questions the existence of truth, surrounded by different belief systems competing for their loyalty, kids crave honest guidance, untainted by self-interest and ulterior motives.

Growing up in a cynical culture that assigns human worth based upon physical beauty and rare talent, young people are taught directly and indirectly that they are only valuable if they look a certain way and cultivate friendships with the "right" kind of people. As a result, they tend to be lonely, suspicious, scared and hurting inside.

Unconditional Love

When dealing with young people, it is essential that you demonstrate unconditional love. Teens today anticipate that their elders will condemn and criticize them — the music they listen to, the clothes and hairstyles they wear — without making an effort to understand.

So many of my peers long for a closer relationship with their parents and grandparents, yet often feel unloved and misunderstood.

If you want to form friendships with today's young people, you may have to take the initiative in demonstrating concern, respect and an interest in them and their passions. Take them seriously and try to understand their perspectives before passing judgment on them. This is not to say you should never offer advice, confront them with sin in their lives or share lessons from your own experience. In fact, most young people crave direction, to guide them in the fragmented pluralism of our society. But the cliché, "People don't care how much you know, unless they know how much you care" has never been more true than when applied to this generation. Unless young people feel confident that your advice is intended for their best interests, they will be skeptical, fearing manipulation.

Once you've laid a foundation of love and respect, it is also important to share the life lessons you have learned. In Titus 2, Paul instructs the older women to teach the younger. This principle of mentoring is demonstrated again in Acts 18, when Aquila and Priscilla take Apollos under their wing and lovingly instruct him in God's truth.

Share From Your Heart

Having a long history of walking with Christ and having experienced firsthand the bitter betrayal of worldly wisdom, you are well-equipped to share what you have learned to help young people make wise choices. Whether imparting moral truths and practical life skills or simply reminiscing about your own journey, sharing from your heart can help to mold and direct young people in truly significant ways.

Unless young people feel confident that your advice is intended for their best interests, they will be skeptical, fearing manipulation.

Many of you may still be wondering how to personalize those principles, and may be grappling with practical ways to reach out to modern youth. Allow me to share some steps you can take to form mentoring relationships with the teens and college students within your sphere of influence.

The first step in developing such relationships is, obviously, finding some young people to interact with. You can build relationships with your own grandchildren, kids in the neighborhood, youth group members or college students visiting your church. Don't be afraid to initiate the conversation. It may be a little awkward at first, but I promise you, most young people will appreciate your effort.

Ask the highschooler in the pew behind you about her school experiences, hobbies, friends and dreams. Ask the college student on Christmas break about his classes, extra-curricular activities or the issues he's facing at school. As you demonstrate concern and consistent enthusiasm, most young people will respond with warmth and gratitude. Remember: a critical key to communication is the art of listening. Act genuinely interested in what a young person has to say — in other words, resist the temptation to lecture!

Use Your Imagination

As you develop relationships with young people, invite them into your life. Take a teen out for ice cream or to a baseball game. Invite a college student over for Sunday afternoon lunch. Teach a young girl to garden or bake homemade bread. Show a young boy how to fix cars or work with carpentry. Invite the church youth group to your home for an outdoor barbecue. Teach a Sunday school class or chaperone a field trip. The opportunities are as varied as your own imagination.

Once you have formed close mentoring relationships with some young people, allow them to give back to you. Ask a young person to help you paint a fence, rake leaves or shovel snow. If you've been wanting to learn more about computers, solicit a teen-age computer whiz to teach you the basics of negotiating the Internet. Don't be afraid to learn from young people; rather, look for their strengths and wisdom and affirm them in their abilities.

Make discipleship, whether formal or informal, a pillar in your relationships with youth. Lead a Bible study for young believers; share informally about God's work in your life; and pray for those you're mentoring, because teens today face a host of temptations.

Model a ministry-minded attitude and a Christ-like spirit. And most important, don't underestimate young people. Be open to their opinions on moral and theological issues.

You might be surprised to learn something new!

Finally, be transparent about your own dreams, hopes, doubts and desires; in short, be yourself. By being vulnerable about your own struggles, you can refute the stereotype that all older people are closed-minded and judgmental.

Ministering to a different generation presents a unique set of challenges, but the rewards are worth the effort. Find some young people in need of unconditional acceptance and teach them what it means to follow Christ. Your mentoring may make the difference in whether a young person chooses the path of selfishness and self-interest — or one that reflects the integrity and character of Christ. As you demonstrate concern and consistent enthusiasm, most young people will respond with warmth and gratitude.

Creative Journal Writing With Grandkids

They can make it a personal journal or one for friends or family members, jotting down experiences, adventures or notes about whatever they're interested in.

by Karen O'Connor

Then the Lord replied: "Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it." (Habakkuk 2:2, NIV)

"Isn't this fun, Gramma? Just the two of us."

My 8-year old grandson Noah hopped out of the car and onto a nearby rock and then onto a log, and then onto a picnic table and then onto another rock. The fun had begun. We had just arrived at a nature knowledge workshop for kids, their parents and grandparents in the Laguna Mountains in Southern California.

One of the most significant activities of the weekend for Noah was journal writing. He asked me to help him make a few entries in a science journal he had started at home. He wanted some tangible memories of our weekend together.

Noah unpacked his journal first thing and made sure he had it with him at all times. As soon as we completed an activity, he pulled it out, handed it to me and then dictated three or four sentences that summarized his experience. I wrote down exactly what he said. He's an excellent reader, but he was still mastering his writing skills. Noah sometimes added personal drawings, photos or pictures from magazines to illustrate his entries. After viewing a slide show on animal behavior, he said: "If you see a mountain lion, don't run. Make yourself look big by putting your arms over your head and pushing out your muscles."

By Sunday afternoon he had several pages filled with writing and simple drawings. When we met his dad at our usual rendezvous spot, the first words out of Noah's mouth were, "Dad, Dad, want to hear my journal?" His father later reported that Noah read from his science journal all the way home. And he entertained his brothers and sister at dinner with all the new facts he had learned at the Nature Knowledge Workshop. I captured most of our weekend experiences on film, so I sent him a small photo album of pictures to augment his science journal. It was a rich experience for both of us. We shared a very special time together as grandmother and grandson, and we also learned about God's green earth and the bounty of natural gifts He has provided.

Journal Jottings

Jordan, another grandson, started a creative photo album for his experiences as a Boy Scout. He decorated each page with stickers and stripes and added a few words under each picture to help him remember the people and the event. The result was a journal/photo album that he was proud to take to school and share with his teacher and classmates.

You might consider doing something similar with your grandchildren. Help them capture their experiences and interests in words, then have fun together adding colorful stickers, smiley faces, drawings, sketches or photos with captions. They can make it a personal journal or one for friends or family members, jotting down experiences they've shared, adventures they've enjoyed together or notes about whatever they're interested in.

In addition to a science journal like Noah's, there are plenty of other types of journals:

When starting a journal, you may want to first gather some or all of these items:

Depending on your grandchildren's age and skill level, you can support them with encouraging comments or take an active part by helping with the writing and/or decorating. You could also start your own journal and make entries in yours as they write in theirs, sharing with one another whatever part you wish.

The important thing is to help them capture the moment in a way that's fun, memorable and creative.

Fun Online Communication With Grandkids

Snail mail is a thing of the past. If you want to keep long-distance communication with your grandkids alive, think about learning the basics of online chat.

by Roberta Rand Caponey

You may not realize it, but when your grandkids chat with their friends online, they've most likely mastered an entire vocabulary of acronyms and "emoticons" designed to facilitate the truncated, rapid-fire back-and-forth that characterizes most online communication nowadays. You and I may bemoan the lost art of letter writing, but today's kids are simply not geared to "snail mail."

Rather than hound them for letters that will likely never arrive, why not jump onboard the online-chat bandwagon by learning to IM (Instant Message)? You can have a RT (real time) conversation with your grandkids that costs little and that everyone will enjoy.

Most major ISPs (Internet Service Providers) offer instant messaging services at no cost. All you have to do is download the software. Check with your ISP for details.

One fun way to enhance your online communication experience is to learn the lingo. Although some acronyms are designed to thwart the prying gaze of parents (POS = "parents over shoulder"), most are harmless shorthand for common phrases like "Be Right Back" (BRB), "See You Later" (CUL8R) and "In My Opinion" (IMO).

Emoticons are those little symbols that feature not only smiles, but frowns, winks, squinty eyes and scrunched mouths. In the early days of internet chat, it required imagination and creativity to compose the little sideways faces made from keyboard symbols (carrots, brackets, dashes, parenthesis, colons and semi-colons, etc.). Now, most of the popular ISPs have made it possible to simply cut and paste little yellow faces directly into a dialogue box.

But just in case you want to do it the "old-fashioned" way, here's a short list of emoticons you can use with your progeny's progeny to significantly boost your "coolness" factor online:

:-) = smile

;-) = wink

:-D = laughing

:-< = sad

:-P = sticking out tongue

:-X = mute/big kiss

:-O = shocked

:-/ = skeptical

There are many, many more of these symbols (some more family-appropriate than others). More acronyms you'll want to be prepared to toss out include:

BTW = By The Way

AFK = Away From Keyboard

DWL = Dying With Laughter

EMFJI = Excuse Me For Jumping In

F2F = Face To Face

FOCL = Falling Off Chair Laughing

ROTFL = Rolling On The Floor Laughing

GBTW = Get Back To Work

GTG = Got To Go

IC = I See

IDGI = I Don't Get It

OTOH = On The Other Hand

CFN = Ciao For Now

Besides these, why not come up with some "designer" acronyms of your own — a language to share just between you and your grandkids when you're chatting online? In the meantime, DYH (Do Your Homework) and GBL (Get Busy Learning) how you can communicate in a way your grandkids can relate to. IOHO, IWTE (In Our Humble Opinion, It's Worth The Effort)!

Grandma Camp

Each evening we pray with the girls. We talk with our heavenly Father, knowing He loves our granddaughters and has a wonderful purpose for their lives.

by Ruth Alewine Page

I couldn't wait for Noelle and Grace to emerge from the Jetway. Soon I saw their cheerful faces and heard the excitement in their voices. "Nana!" Today was the first day of Grandma Camp.

My husband, Bob, and I are like many families today. We long to know our grandchildren better, to share happy memories during their growing years and to help guide them to follow Christ. However, we are separated from them by hundreds of miles and see them only a few times a year. A part of the answer for us is an annual event we call "Grandma Camp." Other family gatherings are wonderful, but the dynamics are completely different when we spend personal time together. Grandpa is certainly a big part of Grandma Camp, but the girls started calling it Grandma Camp after me, the hardworking camp director.

My husband and I are currently stationed at an Air Force base in the Historic Triangle of Virginia. Our grandaughters' other set of grandparents, David and Linda, live near Washington, D.C. We have a perfect arrangement with them. While we host one girl, they host the other, and then we switch. We have a week with each girl, and their parents have two weeks on their own. To make camp successful, Bob and I remember four words: parents, planning, personality and prayer.

Parents: You will do more harm than good if you mention a visit in front of the grandchild before the parents have an opportunity to discuss and approve the idea. Some parents are uncomfortable allowing their children to fly alone or having them away from home for more than a few days. Be sure to honor whatever the parents decide.

Planning: Our gift to each grandchild is her airline ticket and an invitation to Grandma Camp. In making arrangements, make the travel as simple as possible. Do your best to book a direct flight to limit any potential delays or connection issues. If your grandchildren are younger, you'll pay an unaccompanied minor fee and the airline will assign a person to watch out for them. For some grandparents, you may be close enough to drive your grandchildren to and from Grandma Camp.

Personality: Base the activities on each child's age, interests and personality. Prepare for your time together. Write out the plan for each day, including a few new adventures during the week. These trips might include a theme park, historical site, zoo, aquarium or activities such as horseback riding, going to the beach or shopping for a new school backpack. Investigate local attractions and interesting landmarks before the visit.

When we lived near Washington, D.C., we visited Mount Vernon, the Smithsonian and the Capitol. Surprised when our older granddaughter asked to visit her senators, I arranged for Noelle to meet the two senators from her home state of Texas. She now has framed photos of herself with Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn as a reminder of the day she learned about our federal government. Gracie had no interest in meeting her senators, but she did want to see the panda at the National Zoo and ride a roller coaster with her grandpa.

Prayer: Each evening we pray with the girls. We talk with our heavenly Father, knowing He loves our granddaughters and has a wonderful purpose for their lives.

On the final night of Grandma Camp, we gather all the photos taken during the week. Bob spends the evening helping his granddaughter arrange pictures and stickers into a colorful book of memories she can take home.

Every year at the end of camp, we drive home from the airport very tired — and grateful for our grandchildren and the special times we've had together. While Bob was deployed overseas, he received a call from Noelle he'll never forget. She told him that she had asked Jesus into her heart and wanted him to baptize her when he returned. Last year we traveled to Texas for Noelle's baptism.

All those years of Grandma Camp paid off with the richest of rewards.

Grandparenting Across the Miles

If a grandparent and grandchild want to remain connected, they have to find creative ways to carry on their relationship across the miles, but it can be done successfully.

by Karen O'Connor

Over the highway and through the traffic, to Grandmother's condo we go!

Sure, it's a slight variation on the traditional song, but one that fits the status of many grandparents today. We watch as our children grow up, marry, move, have children of their own and perhaps move again. Grandsons and granddaughters may not be down the road or around the corner as we might wish they were.

Grandparents, too, change locations. Some sell the family home and move into a townhouse or tour the country in an RV, or settle down in a little cottage by a lake far from the city. If a grandparent and grandchild want to remain connected, they have to find creative ways to carry on their relationship across the miles. It's a bit more challenging than if they lived in the same city or neighborhood, but it can be done, and it can be done successfully, as many grandparents can attest.

My mother and father, for example, lived apart from my three children (their first grandchildren) from the time my son and daughters were born. But they didn't let that stop them from maintaining a close relationship. They wrote regularly, phoned often, sent unexpected treats, and sometimes met us half-way between our house and theirs for a few days of vacation together.

My children have lasting memories of their grandparents surrounding them with love and passing on a sense of heritage they will never forget. And my parents were great role models for me — now that I have grandchildren of my own.

Whether you are a new grandparent or a veteran, you may want to consider some of the following activities as you build your long-distance relationship with your grandsons and granddaughters.

Be a phone pal. Instead of calling your adult children and then asking to speak to the grandchildren, call the kids first! They will love it. Be ready to ask questions about their friends, interests, school and sports. Take notes so you'll know what to talk about on a follow-up call.

Go digital. We no longer have to wait for our photos to be developed, make copies and then send them through the mail. Nowadays, we can share photos as a digital file over the Internet. The kids will 'see' you almost immediately. They can do the same in return. You can also record messages and footage with a video camera or compile a memory album of special photos.

Send a 'love package.' Everyone enjoys a surprise gift, and no one more than children. Watch for sales and stock up ahead on small items that you can mail for reasonable postage. I've packed chewing gum, creative stickers, flower seeds, coloring books, valentine cards, Easter candy, puzzles and so on. A card with a couple of dollars tucked inside is also a favorite with boys and girls of all ages. No matter what it contains, a 'love package' is a terrific way to say, "I'm thinking of you, miss you and love you."

Be an instant 'messager.' Modern kids are into IM (Instant Messaging). No child or teen can ignore an IM — especially if it's from Grandma or Grandpa. Thank heaven for the Internet. You can send an e-mail to chat with your grandchildren, regardless of the time zone. Grandparents whose grandchildren live in a foreign country find this to be one of the best 'connection' tools available. Through e-mail you can play games, share books, talk about the latest movies, discuss topics of mutual interest and give and take tips about a hobby you may share.

My 11-year-old grandson Jake for example, is an amateur gardener and chef. He wrote to tell me that he had earned $125 from his door-to-door chocolate chip cookie business. And he grew a watermelon that was so big is could have won a prize. What fun it was to hear about these adventures — in "real time."

My 13-year-old granddaughter Johannah is a Shakespeare buff. She's been to two Shakespeare camps and has been in several of the old bard's plays. She's also writing a teenage novel with a friend. She knows of my interest in theatre and writing, so we have a lot to 'talk' about when we chat via e-mail.

If you don't have a computer, I recommend you make this purchase a priority. Today's children are growing up with the Internet. If we want to remain a vital part of their world, we need to 'get with the program,' as the saying goes.

Grandparenting across the miles takes a little more effort and ingenuity than being there in person, but it's worth whatever it takes. You and your grandchildren will be the richer for it.

Helping families thrive with the support of friends like you.

Long-Distance Grandparenting

Simple ideas for staying in touch.

by Karen Hart, Traci Pedone

Living in the same town or state as your children’s grandparents isn’t always an option. Here are simple ideas for staying in touch — and near in heart.

  1. Take pictures of a typical day in your child’s life — waking up, eating breakfast, getting ready for school, playing, bedtime — and send them to the grandparents.
  2. Ask grandparents to write special notes or cards that you can hide in your child’s backpack for him to discover while he’s at school or at the park.
  3. Put pictures of the grandparents on a low shelf or on furniture that your child can easily see so she can become familiar with their faces. When your child visits, she will recognize Grandma’s and Grandpa’s faces, rather than perceiving them as strangers. Schedule an appointment for a portrait of your child with Grandma and Grandpa — a special treasure for the entire family!
  4. Send cassette tapes to the grandparents, and ask them to record themselves reading your child’s favorite stories. They might even be inspired to include a few stories about you from your childhood. Depending on how merciful and respectful you were to your parents while growing up, this idea may or may not work in your favor.
  5. Ask grandparents to create a photo album that include snapshots of their surroundings: house, yard, pets, car, Grandma in the kitchen, Grandpa working on his favorite hobby, sites near the home. When your child visits them, they will feel “at home” with Grandma and Grandpa.
  6. Send your child’s artwork to her grandparents. Your child’s self-esteem will grow as she hears her grandparents’ praise and sees the display of her artwork as treasured masterpieces.
  7. Ask grandparents to tell or write stories about when they and their children were young. Not only do kids love to hear grandparents talk about the “old days,” but they feel a sense of history and identity when they learn about how their parents and grandparents grew up.
  8. Ask your parents (if they still live in their hometown) to show your child the neighborhoods where they lived, the parks where they played and the schools they attended. End the sightseeing tour with a picnic or a trip to the grandparents’ favorite pizza place. Be sure to take pictures of the outing.
  9. Help your child shop for a small gift for Grandparents Day — the first Sunday after Labor Day. (If your budget is limited, go to your local dollar store.) Pull out the wrapping paper and bows, and help your child wrap the present.
  10. Mail a care package celebrating Grandparents Day, filled with handmade gifts — a video of your child singing, T-shirts with his handprints, big sugar cookies decorated to look like Grandma and Grandpa and a card saying, “I owe you a hug.”
  11. Remind grandparents that their time — not their money — is what your children value most.

Helping families thrive with the support of friends like you.

Short Getaways With Grandkids

As a gift to my oldest grandson on his 14th birthday, I decided to take him on a trip. The mission was twofold: to spend important bonding time with him and to begin transferring the family mantle.

by Harvey Nowland

As a gift to my oldest grandson on his 14th birthday, I decided to take him on a trip. The mission was twofold: to spend important bonding time with him, and on a more ambitious level, to begin transferring the family mantle (it's a man thing, I guess).

Quick Tips for a Fun Trip

Joshua was interested in the Civil War so I took him to the prisoner-of-war site in Andersonville, Georgia, a three-hour drive from where we live, near former President Jimmy Carter's birthplace.

We toured the site, the cemetery and the excellent POW-MIA museum where we saw a replica of the type of cell in which my friend Lee Ellis spent five years at the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam.

Joshua and I talked about different things, including the sinister side of humans who would allow 26,000 men to be confined in an area intended to hold 13,000. At one time the prisoner count rose to 32,000 and disease caused by lack of sanitation killed thousands.

Lifetime Memories

That night, we checked into a local motel. It was a hot, dry July so we swam in the pool. Later we ate good local barbecue. It was a terrific experience for both of us. We returned home the next day. Our little adventure allowed us 60 uninterrupted hours together. Joshua's memories of our days together may be more vivid later in life than now. I know I'll never forget.

The next year our second grandson turned 14. He has excellent artistic skills, so I thought we'd go to a nature site he'd never heard of. My hope was that we would see an abundance of wildlife Justin could treat as subjects. Though the reality was he didn't take all that well to our trip to the Phinizy Swamp, we did find an excellent art museum along the Savannah River in downtown Augusta. We also visited the Fort Discovery National Science Museum. Echoing my earlier time with Justin, Joshua also swam in the motel pool, and we enjoyed steak dinners.

Next year our oldest granddaughter Kathryn turns 14. It will be my wife's turn to do some specialized grandparent bonding. She hasn't decided where they'll go and what they'll do, but you can be sure it's going to be a treasured experience for both.