A teen behavior expert shares tips for those who are having difficulty maintaining a relationship with their teenage grandchildren.
Posted in , Sep 10, 2021
Becoming a grandparent can be a fulfilling, often life-changing, role. The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild has the potential to have great impact on the entire family, with many grandparents offering stability, a sense of security and unwavering support.
But there’s one problem many grandparents eventually come to face: connecting with their teenage grandkids.
Communication barriers, differing cultures and generational gaps become roadblocks between grandparents and their teenage grandchildren. But according to teen behavior expert, Mark Gregston, this challenge can be overcome.
“Wisdom is not prevalent in the culture today’s kids are in,” he told Guideposts.org. “That’s where grandparents get to step in and, most importantly, engage.”
Thanks to his decades-long experience working with teens and their families, first as a youth minister and then as an area director with Young Life, Gregston knows what it takes to bring structure back into families. He and his wife, Jan, who have four grandchildren, started Heartlight Ministry, a residential counseling center for struggling teens and families in crisis, in Hallsville, Texas.
A big issue many teens face today, according to Gregston, is the lack of relationships, which often leads to negative behavioral patterns—such as distancing themselves from their families.
“Kids don’t communicate like they used to,” he said. “They yearn for somebody who will serve as a voice of encouragement and offer a place of rest.” Gregston encourages grandparents to not only become the voice of wisdom in their grandchildren’s lives, but to listen to them.
“I tell grandparents their priority should be to listen to the heart of their grandchild with the intent of understanding—not with the intent of response,” he said. By doing so, grandparents will notice everything else will fall into place, Gregston adds. They’ll eventually have the opportunity to share their perspective because their grandchildren will naturally ask for it.
This ability to connect is a topic Gregston discusses further in his new book, Grandparenting Teens: Leaving a Legacy of Hope, where he offers practical tips and resources that help grandparents genuinely relate and connect with teens.
“The book tells grandparents how God can use them in the life of their grandkids to leave a legacy,” he said. “It’s not about what you put into their bank account but rather, what you deposit in their hearts during their teen years.”
Although Gregston recalls demanding perfection and triumph as a parent, his grandchildren have taught him that the relationship he maintains with them is far more important than their performance in anything.
“They’ve taught me to love differently—to love in a way that affirms who they are,” he said. He’s also learned to support his kids and their parenting methods or techniques, whether he agrees with them or not.
“I’m not going to work against my kids because I don’t want to become somebody who enables a child with constant provision,” he said. He’s committed to family time, which he believes gives grandchildren the chance to “see the example of Christ being fleshed out” in family relationships.
For many grandparents, distance can be a challenge when trying to engage with grandkids. But thanks to technology, relationships can still be maintained. Gregston also believes “old school communication,” such as sending a hand-written letter, still holds significance. Traveling to visit grandkids can also show them their grandparents care and are willing to spend time and effort to see them.
If there’s one thing Gregston wants grandparents to know, it’s that they play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren. “Whether they say it or not, your teen grandchildren need and want you desperately,” he said. “Being present in their lives makes all the difference in the world.”
Mark Gregston is the author of Grandparenting Teens: Leaving a Legacy of Hope from Forefront Books