Q. For years, my husband and I looked forward to having grandchildren, and when our grandkids were little, it was a truly wonderful time. We used to have them at our house and would spend time together baking cookies, reading to them, taking them to museums, and enjoying other outings. Up until the older ones reached middle school, I felt we had built a great relationship with our grandchildren. But then our daughter and son-in-law made the decision to let the kids get cell phones and—I am not exaggerating—their whole personalities have changed.
The grandkids are now 11, 14, and 17. They have completely lost interest in spending time with us because they are plugged into their smartphones 100 percent of the time. Even when we offer to take them to their favorite restaurants or to a sports event in the city, they literally ignore us the entire time and have their faces buried in their phones. It is so hurtful that we can spend a whole afternoon with them and literally never engage in any meaningful conversation.
What’s worse, our daughter and son-in-law are unwilling to address this issue. I’ve talked to them about it and told them our feelings are hurt when the kids don’t pay attention to us. Their answer is, “This is what kids these days are into,” and “You have to stop making everything about your feelings.” After a few years of being disrespected and ignored, we’re ready to give up. Do you have any ideas on how we can get our grandkids to take notice of an older couple that loves them? I fear they’re missing out on a special time with their grandparents!
A. It must feel heartbreaking to work at a relationship with your grandchildren only to be ignored in favor of frivolous social media sites like Twitter and Snapchat! While your daughter’s observation is true—smartphones are what kids are into these days—that doesn’t mean they ought to be permitted to ignore their grandparents or behave rudely toward you.
The most serious issue in your question is the fact that your daughter doesn’t think your feelings about this situation matter. She’s doing her children a huge disservice by not teaching them to consider the feelings of others and instead permitting them to behave in a selfish and self-absorbed manner. Kids don’t magically look up from their cell phones and suddenly start to behave thoughtfully toward their elders. Good manners are taught by requiring them to pay attention to others and consider the feelings of those around them. Perhaps your daughter and son-in-law aren’t interested in doing battle with their kids about the proper use of cell phones in the company of others, but you might remember that it’s not the kids’ fault their parents aren’t teaching them the right way to behave.
That said, there are things you can do to rekindle your relationship with your grandkids during these critical (and fun!) teenage years:
1. Learn a little bit about pop culture. You don’t have to join Taylor Swift’s posse or commit the names of the Kardashian sisters to memory, but it can’t hurt to find out what your teenaged grandchildren are interested in and take the time to learn a little bit about their favorite sports teams, musicians, or movies. Some grandparents make the mistake of focusing their conversations on “the good old days” rather than staying current on the things their grandkids are interested in. Ask yours for a recommendation for a TV show you might follow or a website you might enjoy. This will give you something to talk about that will interest them.
2. Meet the kids on their turf. You’re never too old to use the latest technology (my 86-year-old parents love their smartphones and use them to text their 19 grandkids—it’s not difficult!). If you’re able to use a cell phone or tablet, you might consider getting a social media account so that you’ll have a common platform to share with your grandkids. Teens don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook anymore (because that’s where their parents and grandparents hang out!), but they still typically have a Facebook account and usually enjoy interacting with extended family. Don’t know how to set up a Facebook page? Have your teenaged grandchildren help you!
3. Keep your sense of humor. The most effective way to get your grandkids to pay closer attention to you is to make the time you spend together absolutely delightful for everyone. Rather than lecture the grandkids about having their heads in their phones, how about sending a text to the child in the backseat of the car that says, “Hey, grandson! Want a cheeseburger?” Funny emojis are much more likely to nudge him toward a conversation with you than hurt feelings. If you find you have no choice but to confront the issue of bad manners and cell phone use, say something like, “How about we make a deal. Let’s put the cell phones away for an hour while we go out to eat, and then I won’t mind if you want to check your messages on the ride back home.” Take baby steps toward better behavior.
The teenage years are a time of exploration, insecurity, and self-discovery. Kids are working hard to fit in and be accepted, all the while trying to spread their wings and assert their individuality. The love and encouragement of their grandparents can be a major source of strength and support during these years, so don’t give up on your grandkids!
Instead, work a little hard to build friendships with your grandchildren. You might just discover that they’re eager to enjoy their time with you in ways that feel more grown-up and mutually rewarding.