How to avoid being ‘cancelled’ by teenage grandchildren

Nov 14, 2021
Queen Elizabeth enjoyed a close and loving bond with her teenaged grandsons, Princes Harry and William. Source: Getty

For some, it creeps up gradually.  One minute you’re blissfully baking biscuits together, savouring hugs on tap, ganging up on mummy and daddy, and giggling over The Wiggles. You can’t say for sure when it happened, but now it seems certain that you’ve drifted apart and lost that special connection.

For other bewildered grandparents, it occurs literally overnight. Your once bubbly and chatty grandchild turns into a blank-eyed teenager, welded to their small screens. Everything you say is met with thinly-concealed forbearance or one-word answers. Where conversations between you used to burble along naturally and freely like a brook, things have now become laboured and awkward. A one-way street.

You’ve been “cancelled”, as the teens like to say. No longer relevant or necessary to their lives. The fact that you had to Google what “being cancelled” means, only serves to underscore your now redundant status.

To think that the special and magical bond you once shared might be relegated to the past – along with fishing trips, regular sleepovers, and Sunday morning Skypes – can be incredibly painful for grandparents.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Maintaining a healthy grandparent-grandchild relationship is vital to the mental well-being of both groups, so we went right to the source and enlisted the help of teen grandkids, aged between 13 and 18, from the Starts at 60 Community. Here, they tell us in their own words, how to rebuild that irreplaceable bond for life:

Be open to learning about our wacky world

three teenagers looking at their phones and smiling
Make time to find out what makes us tick. Source: Getty

In our younger eyes, you were the font of all wisdom. But now that we’ve started to talk about things that you don’t understand or have never heard of before, please don’t shut off, give up on us, or be intimidated. Put in the effort to learn about Gen Z culture. Let us show you some of our current favourite YouTube videos or TikTok moments. Most teenage grandkids would love to share that with you. It makes us feel special and that our interests and sense of humour are important to you and not just dismissed as silly. This is a very easy way to build bonds with us and create new ones too.

Tell us funny (and incriminating) stories about our parents

We may not know everything worth knowing about our parents. But you probably do! Sharing funny stories about what they were like as kids growing up, and what kind of trouble they got into, is another great way to bond with us. Not only does it give us very useful ammunition against our mum or dad, it also helps us relate to you on a different footing and understand more about our own parents, before they were parents. It’s nice to have a laugh together too.

Give us space

If your grandkids are now teenagers it’s only natural that the relationship between both parties will change. Give us the space that we need while we grapple with exams, driving lessons and first relationships and don’t try to force the dynamic. It might make things worse. Try to understand that most times it’s not personal (unless you’ve just dropped some clunker that we view as totally inappropriate in today’s world – in which case, see next section…). Most teens grow out of this stand-offish behaviour sooner or later and we’ll always boomerang back to you when we really need you.

Don’t play the ‘back in my day’ card too often

Think before you say things. Many people say that our generation is too sensitive, which can be true, but we’re also going through an era of massive cultural reform in our language and thinking. Try not to get defensive if your grandkid tells you that what you just said is offensive or incorrect. We know it’s tempting for you to use the excuse “but we’re from a different time” or “it’s how we were raised”. That doesn’t wash with us. We love you dearly but we want you to understand that times are changing and you just can’t say certain things anymore. End of story. P.S. if you don’t understand why you can’t say something anymore or why it’s offensive, just ask us and we’ll be happy to explain.

Leave our appearance out of the conversation

teen with braces and frizzy afro and chicken on head
No matter how ‘out there’ we look, don’t say a word. Source: Getty

Please don’t ask us “have you gained or lost weight?”. Or “why are you wearing your hair like that?”. Observational comments like, “Oh, you’re getting so tall” are risky ground best avoided too. Chances are, your teen grandkid is already feeling self-conscious enough about all the physical changes raging both inside and outside of our bodies, without you drawing unwanted attention to it. Because we feel judged, it can make us put our barriers up and think twice about coming to you for a chat.

Sometimes we just want you to lend an ear, not give us advice

We know you have decades of valuable life experience to impart and we love hearing your stories, but usually, we don’t need you to solve our problems for us. Feeling listened to is what’s important to us. Plus, more than any other age group, we teens are allergic to unsolicited advice (just ask our parents!). A better approach is to ask us some leading questions and help guide us towards finding the solution ourselves, in our own way. Another good tactic is to ask first before diving in: “Would you like my advice or do you just need someone to listen?”.

Spend time with us one-on-one

teen enjoying pizza slice
We’d love to go for pizza together. Especially if you’re shouting! Source: Getty

Sometimes it can be hard to connect with you when we’re at hectic family gatherings like birthdays or weddings – and these fishbowl occasions where we’re all on show can also make us feel a little stiff and self-conscious, to be honest. We’d prefer it if we caught up with you when it was just us. Here’s a thought: maybe you could treat us to a burger or pizza at our favourite hangout!

Less talk, more action

Even better, let’s find something to do together that side-steps the whole face-to-face talking thing completely (until we grow out of our awkward phase!). Maybe we could cook a meal, go to the movies, or walk the dog together. Or we could both sign up for some volunteer work; perhaps help out at the local animal shelter or soup kitchen a few hours a fortnight.

Nerd up on popular teen trends

comic con man dressed as captain america with thor hammer
Shared interests means more to talk about. Source: Getty

Is your teenage grandchild obsessed with Squid Game or Marvel movies? In your spare time, maybe try out some things that you know we love and that are popular with younger generations. You never know, you just might like them and it’ll help us to have more common interests and topics to talk about next time we see you.

Be an old dog and teach us a new trick

man handing over keys to teenage girl in car
Show us something we don’t know. Source: Getty

So, we can wipe the floor with you when it comes to social media but we bet there’s some cool “old school” skill or hobby that you could show us. Making homemade jam? Knitting? Growing a herb garden together? The perfect golf swing or how to bait a hook? A driving lesson? We’re game if you are.

Show up for important events

It’s not always possible but it means so much to us when you come along to our big moments; whether it’s the finals of our debating tournament; a high-stakes netball game; or our graduation ceremony. It makes us feel so very loved and we’ll always remember that you were there on our special day.

Success story: Why my grandparents are the coolest

By Paris Wilson, 18, student, Brisbane

Paris Wilson and family with her granddad Tony
Paris Wilson (left) with her beloved granddad Tony who has always been centre-stage in her life. Source: Paris Wilson

“My grandparents have always made a big effort to hang out with us since we were small and actually do things with us. Because of that, we’ve kept wanting to hang out with them too over the years; even as our friends have become a larger part of our lives.

When we were younger, they owned a newsagent in South Bank, right in the heart of the city, and they used to invite all six grandkids down for the day on our school holidays to go for ice-cream and visit the museum with them.

Like most teens, I don’t want to engage in conversations where everything gets related back to the fact that I’m from Gen Z. But my grandparents talk to us as equals. They are actively interested in what we are doing. When we go out for a family birthday dinner, for example, my Poppa will go around the table and sit down with each of us to talk to us one-by-one. He finds access points for us all and doesn’t compare us, by saying things like: ‘you’re more academic than your sister’. He says the key to staying relevant to teenagers is to try to think like them when he’s talking to us. That approach inspires us to make conversation with our grandparents. Maybe I’ve seen on Facebook that they’ve been on a hike in Tasmania and I’ll ask about that next time I see them.

My grandparents live on the Sunshine Coast and have just made a fantastic new “grandkids space” in their house with a pool table and flat screen TV for us to hang out in together when we visit. And whenever my Nanny comes down to Brisbane, she calls us up for impromptu lunches. She’ll spontaneously say, ‘Let’s meet up at the Coffee Club for wraps and milkshakes’. I know she also goes out for cocktails with my older cousin.

When we were growing up, my other grandmother would come to watch our swimming lessons every week and we’d have coffee afterwards. It was her way of staying connected to our lives. My grandparents are the best.”

a granddad skiing with his teenage granddaughters
Memorable active adventures with Poppa. Source: Paris Wilson

Do you have teenage grandkids? Do you feel like you've grown apart?

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