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The Role of Grandparents and Grandchildren in the Teenage Years

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Grandparents with Teenage Granddaughter
Grandparenting is one of our greatest joys. The fun doesn't have to stop when the grandkids reach their teen years, but our approach may have to change a bit.

Some grandparents don’t seem to notice when their grandkids become teenagers. Many of us can tell stories about Thomas the Tank Engine pajamas and Barbie dolls we received from our grandparents as Christmas gifts when we were sixteen years old. However, maybe you are different as a grandparent. Perhaps you have noticed how the roles of grandparents and grandchildren change in the teenage years. You’ve seen that your grandkids have grown up. 

Your grandkids act differently now. When they were little, they looked forward to your visits. They jumped up in your arms to give you big hugs. They endlessly jabbered on about the wonderfully exciting things going on in their lives — catching bugs in the backyard, skinning knees on the playground, and planning their next birthday party, among other things. 

Your grandkids used to crawl up in your lap with a pile of storybooks for you to read to them. If they didn’t have books, they would let you make a story of your own. And, of course, they loved hearing about Jesus and other characters from the Bible. Times like these make grandparenting a special joy. But as grandchildren get older, the roles between grandparents and grandchildren change.

But what happens when they become grand‐middle‐schoolers or grand‐teenagers? Often, they are a lot less enthusiastic about jumping up into your arms (thank goodness), and they are much less willing to tell you everything that’s going on in their lives. They have less time and become a lot more protective of their private lives. And they are not as enthusiastic about sitting down for a Bible story or prayer time with grandma or grandpa.  

These changes can be frustrating and discouraging to Christian grandparents who want to have a good relationship with their teen grandchildren and be a positive influence for Christ. 

Differing Learning Styles

When I was researching adolescent development for one of my books, I discovered how children learn best as they mature. Three different learning styles are common during childhood and adolescence. They are:

1.    Children (up to about age 10) learn best by hearing (listening).

2.    Middle schoolers (from 10 to 14) learn best by seeing (observation).

3.    High schoolers (14 to 18) learn best by doing (experience).

This understanding of how children learn can help us as teachers, parents, and grandparents. 

Childhood Years

Hearing affirms what we already know. Children love to hear stories and learn from them. Childhood is the perfect time to read to them, tell them the stories of our faith, inspire them with words of encouragement, and correct them with discipline words. They will take our words to heart, and they will learn from what we have to say. The scripture is so clear about teaching or telling stories of faith to our children and grandchildren (Deuteronomy 4:9). Jesus welcomed the children to come to him and listen to what he had to say. They undoubtedly loved hearing the stories that Jesus told as much as the adults in the room and took them to heart.

Grandmother and grandchildren playing in the garden

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The Adolescent Years

As children move into adolescence and their teenage years, they listen less and watch more. When I was doing youth ministry, I loved taking middle‐school kids on field trips. Adolescence is a great time for kids to see things, observe the world around them, watch others do their jobs. I once took a group of middle‐schoolers to a popular radio station in town to let them watch the DJ’s as they played music over the airwaves. Every one of those kids suddenly wanted to become a DJ. They were all practicing their “DJ chatter” in the car driving home. I’ve seen that happen over and over with middle-schoolers.

That’s what makes the media so powerful today. The images and messages portrayed by popular media can have a powerful influence on middle‐schoolers. That’s why the CEO of one popular cable music network claimed, “We own 13‐year‐olds.” They know if they can capture the hearts of middle‐schooler, they’ve got them for life.

In our role as grandparents, we can help counter the influence of the media by merely being with them — so that they can observe how we live. We don’t have to preach or teach or read storybooks to them. If we are willing to spend time with our grandchildren and model what it means to be a godly man or woman in front of them, they will learn from us in ways we can’t imagine. Before he died, theologian and author Dallas Willard was asked in an interview to describe the godliest person he ever remembered growing up. He smiled and quickly remembered his grandmother. As a boy, he watched her closely and knew he wanted the same peace, joy, and other fruits of the spirit that he saw so evident in his grandma’s life.

The Teenage Years

When our grandchildren become older teenagers, they learn best from their experiences. In the past, teenagers worked in apprenticeships to take advantage of this. Classroom learning is good, but learning by doing is even better. When teens have a chance to practice what they have already learned from listening and watching, they can make sense of it all and even teach it to others.

Sharing Experiences as Grandparents and Grandchildren

For the past six years, I have encouraged parents and grandparents of teenagers in our church to go together on a mission trip to Mexico that I organize every summer, building houses for the poor. 

When we take teenagers on mission trips, we know that their lives are often changed more than the people they serve. And how much better it is when they can serve alongside their parents and grandparents! For many years, my wife and I took our three children to Mexico on mission trips. There is no doubt that these experiences left an indelible imprint on their lives. These experiences impacted their career and lifestyle choices later on.

In your role as a grandparent, you can give your grandchild experiences that will last a lifetime. I know grandparents who have ten grandchildren. For their sixteenth birthday, they give each one of them a trip to anywhere in the United States they want. They go together, of course, and have a great time with their grandchildren. The teenage years are the perfect age for them to learn tremendously from experiences like this. Expensive, yes, but these grandparents haven’t been saving for their bucket list of things they have always wanted to do. Instead, they invest in their grandchildren and give them experiences from which they can learn life’s greatest lessons.

Grandparenting is one of our greatest joys. The fun doesn’t have to stop when the grandkids reach their teenage years. Just remember that while our role as grandparents and our approach may have to change a bit, learning continues well into adulthood for our grandkids as they listen, watch, and experience how we live our lives as followers of Jesus.

And next Christmas, you might want to ditch the cartoon‐themed pajamas in favor of a gift certificate to your grandchild’s favorite store. 

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