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Empowering Teens to Make Healthy Choices

Written by Harriet Fagan. Posted in Uncategorized

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Published on February 09, 2011 with No Comments

by Harriet Fagan

I always envied the relationships my childhood friends had with their grandparents. Those friends reaped rewards like delicious ethnic treats, home-sewn dresses and Saturday nights spent listening to family stories and fictional tales while basking in their grandparentsí warmth.
Having been a ìlate in lifeî child myself, all but one of my parentsí parents had already passed on by the time I was 6. The grandfather with whom I recall having periodic contact, though, is forever etched in my memory as a gentle spirit who exuded love that is still palpable these many decades later.
Grandparents can certainly hold a special place in a childís heart. Many become trusted friends and confidantes and remain so throughout the often turbulent teen years and beyond.
As a person who loves the child unconditionally and is typically not in the role of disciplinarian or enforcer of rules, a grandparent is uniquely positioned to keep the lines of communication open with and have an immense positive impact on a teenager. Teens have a lot to sort out, and a grandparent can be just the person to help them.
Arthur Kornhaber, M.D., founder of the Foundation for Grandparents and author of ìThe Grandparent Solutionî and other books, noted, ìTodayís teens spend a lot of time with each other but are often isolated from older adults. Thereís an ëelder hungerí for the wisdom of older people. When grandparents share their time and life stories with adolescents, they also share their heart and spirit. Thatís a powerful and rewarding experience for both generations.î
Teens and grandparents who have opportunities to spend time together build wonderful bonds. Adolescents enjoy learning about the mistakes their parents and other family members made, and their grandparents are happy to tell the stories.
This reassures the teen that he can make mistakes and still become a good and successful person, just like his parent or favorite uncle. The grandparentís sharing of history and family also provides a youth with a feeling of belonging and that he is part of something bigger than himself.
In a recent AARP study, more than half of the grandparents surveyed indicated that talking with their grandchildren about a variety of issues is among the most important tasks they take on. The most popular topics of their conversations with grandchildren are morals or values, planning future visits and daily activities. Some believe their grandchildren are equally as likely to talk to them about religion, drinking, drug use and other sensitive topics.
The key to building strong communication is to spend time with the grandchild one-on-one without the parents present and to be a good listener. Thanks to todayís technology, some of that time can be shared electronically if distance separates you from your grandchildren.
When you are in close proximity, plan a field trip with your teenage grandchild. Attend his school, athletic and other events. Take him to a movie or event that interests him. Go on a nature hike, volunteer together or allow him to teach you new computer skills.
If you can, set a regular date for getting together. Perhaps you could share doughnuts after church on Sunday or pizza every other Tuesday evening. Food is always a great incentive for teens.
ìI think the most important thing grandparents can do for their grandchildren is spend time with them,î Wade Breitzke, program director for A Positive Approach to Teen Health (PATH, Inc.), said.
ìNothing can replace that. We would go to grandma and grandpa Breitzkeís house every Sunday for doughnuts growing up. They didnít play favorites among us; each of us was number one in their book. Grandpa Clyde’s giving spirit taught me that weíre all here to help one another and to take great joy in giving. Mamaw and grandpa Jack have big hearts, and they have always been there for us. Mamaw actually learned how to play video games so she could play with us!î
A loving, involved grandparent is a treasure indeed ñ a gem that can truly bridge the generation gap in a unique way.

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About Harriet Fagan

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Harriet Fagan is a mother, grandmother, freelance writer and former educator; she creates this column under the auspices of A Positive Approach to Teen Health (PATH, Inc.).

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