November 18, 2019

Grandparents are cool — until the grandkids become teenagers.

Just before our first grandchild, Rylan, was born, a veteran grandmother friend of mine told me, “Spend as much time as you can with your grandchildren when they are little. Grandchildren grow up a lot faster than our own children did.” I took her advice to heart.

And in a blink, that cute little baby with outrageous hair is now a teenager. His younger sister, Amelia, is now in the double digits. My friend was right; it happened in fast-forward time.

We should have seen it coming. After all, we’ve had 13 years to prepare for it. The signs of teenager-dom and tweens were right in front of us. That adorable little toddler who used to stand on the front porch and jump up and down until we opened the door, now flips me the peace sign through the window. That precious little girl who used to spend the night (on the top bunk!) at every opportunity, now weighs her weekend options before making a commitment to spend time with us. Really? Are we chopped liver? Or obsolete?

Of course, Papa and I had teens of our own at one time, so most of this is not news to us. But times have changed and we needed a refresher course. So to prepare for this (and preserve what is left of our self-esteem), I bought a book about tweens called “How to Hug a Porcupine: Negotiating the Prickly Points of the Tween Years,” by Julie A. Ross. Ross gives us reminders of what teenage and parental relations look like today and, in a somewhat chilling fashion, she discusses the difficulties teens and tweens of today have that didn’t exist a generation ago.

When my kids where tweens, the most high tech thing they owned was a beeper, and I’m not even sure why they had these contraptions. According to Ross and a study by the Kaiser Foundation, today’s teens spend an average of 44 hours a week, or 6.5 hours a day on the computer. The only activity that takes more of a teen’s time than this is sleeping. Let that sink in.

She goes into detail about the pressures on kids — at younger and younger ages — to experiment with alcohol, drugs, and sex. She’s pretty sure that by the time most parents get around to discussing these issues with kids, it’s too late. Yep, start educating these guys before middle school, she advises.

Our own kids thought Papa and I were the two most boring parents on earth, and they were probably right. We were navigating those teen years blindfolded at times, as most parents do. When we got stuck on an issue, we made friends with a family therapist or two. We set limits and boundaries and did our best to ensure that somehow, some way our kids wouldn’t end up ax murderers. They made mistakes and so did we. We’ve apologized for being idiots and so have they. Here we are twenty years post teenage years in our house, and we’re all still speaking to one another. We call that success.

The one big message we tried to get through to our teens was: we love you no matter what. Sure, they tested us during those years. A lot. But they both emerged from their adolescent chapter as responsible, hard-working, good adults. I don’t think it was an accident.

So, Papa and I are buckling our seat belts and strapping on our helmets for the next few years, just in case. The teen years are here again, and we are ready. Or as ready as two loving, concerned porcupine grandparents can be.

Laura Claverie, also known as Nola Family’s Hip Grannie, is a journalist who has written for local, regional, and national media.

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