“Well, that was awkward!” You think as you finish a brief conversation with a teenager where neither of you could think of anything to say.
Most youth struggle with relating to anyone but their siblings and close peers unless the other person has a specific role in their life. Youth can relate to their basketball coach, dentist, doctor, math teacher, pastor, etc. when they are interacting with them within the boundaries of their specific function in their lives. But meeting your coach at the theater or your dentist at the grocery store is awkward when you are a 14-year-old boy. What does he say to these people out of context?
Learning to conduct a conversation with teens is one of the consummate skills of a good youth worker and a grandparent. This is a learnable skill.
It is easier to talk to young people when you are doing something. If you want to develop a deep relationship with a teenager do something with him and talk “in the background.” Choose topics of common interest. They aren’t interested in your health issues, 401K, politics, the location of the old AMC dealership, or obituaries. Your top interests probably aren’t pizza, pop music, school, and horror movies. You have to work to find the overlap.
If you have a good relationship with your grandchildren, you will know the interests of each. Almost all five-year-olds are happy to read a book with an adult, but there are fewer magic bullets for grandparents of a fourteen-year-old. Classic rock ’n’ roll might be of interest to one, but another only likes hip-hop. I gladly went fishing and golfing in my teens, but had no interest in the NBA. I liked cooking, but hated shopping. Some art interested me, but hunting didn’t. When you plan an activity or begin a conversation with your grandchild, know your audience.
The good news is that it is not that hard to identify their interests if you are actually interested in finding them! The bad news is that those interests may last only one season. However, if you work to keep up with their changing activities and current passions, it will show them something important. You aren’t just interested in their interests; You are genuinely interested in them.
Michael Shaughnessy is the Founder of Grandly: The Strategic Grandparents Club.
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