Grandparents raising grandchildren: Part four

Helpful tips for anyone in a parenting role who is raising a teenager.

Michigan State University Extension acknowledges that it may seem to you that your grandchild grew up overnight into a teenager. Raising a teen means you need to adjust the way you parent/grandparent. Developmentally their bodies and brains are maturing. They are thinking more and more like an adult, yet lack maturity and life experience so your guidance is needed even more than when they were little. They may be moody and rebellious, but this is all part of normal development as they are learning to be independent in thought and deed. The most important thing you can do is be there so they can turn to you to answer questions and discuss all the changes they are going through.

Typical teen issues and how you can help:

Puberty: One change you can be sure of is puberty, which can begin as early as age 9. For girls, that means developing breasts and starting menstruation. For boys, that means broader shoulders and lower voices.

  • You can help by being approachable. Start talking early about what changes they can expect. Teens going through puberty need massive amounts of assurance and reminders of how special they are and how much you love them. If you are uncomfortable talking about the changes in puberty, ask the youth librarian to suggest some books. Be open to finding answers together. You don’t have to know everything to be supportive.

Risk taking: Both boys and girls have a surge in certain neurotransmitters in their brain that make teens more impulsive and likely to participate in risky behaviors which may include experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol.

  • You can help by talking early and often. It is never too late to begin conversations about these tough subjects. The University of Georgia Extension suggests that you be a role model through your own responsible behavior. This is a good time to include discussions on your own values and beliefs. Be the one they can turn to for accurate information. If they don’t get it from you they will turn to friends, media, etc. where they will more than likely get inaccurate information or things you do not agree with. They need accurate information on how pregnancy happens, sexually transmitted diseases, laws of underage drinking and driving under the influence.

Becoming independent: One of the jobs of a teen is to learn to be a responsible and independent adult. They spend a lot of time developing their own ideas, values and discovering who they are separately from their family. This can sometimes lead to family conflict especially when they are expressing themselves in ways you might disagree with such as how they wear their hair, the clothes they choose or the music they like. Some people call this a generation gap. The gap can seem larger when you are a grandparent versus a parent of a teen.

  • You can help by teaching teens how to make good decisions. You can allow them to make some choices for themselves so they can ‘practice’ in safe ways, which decisions are good and which are not so good. A good rule of thumb is to let teens have control over choices that involves primarily the teen and their world, does not involve the health or safety of the teen or others, allows the teen to explore their own interests, abilities or preferences and will not adversely affect others.

Although this can be a turbulent time, guiding your teenage grandkids into adulthood can be very rewarding. Be warm, but know what to expect, and enforce rules when necessary.  Remember to increase freedoms and choices as you notice your teen acting more responsibly. That way they will learn that part of being an adult is accepting responsibility for all the choices they make in life. For more information, check out the Building Strong Adolescents series from Michigan State University Extension.

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