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Christian Living

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Grandparenting Today's Teens with Expert Mark Gregston

Kimberly Carr - Digital Media Producer

Author Mark Gregston has been working with teens for over 40 years. His years as a youth minister and area director for Young Life inform his expertise and passion for helping teens through their most turbulent years. He and his wife Jan have opened their home to those in need of guidance, or even just a warm hug from a caring parent. After moving their family to Texas, Greg and Jan started Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens and families in crisis.

Now, after years of experience in being a grandparent, Mark shares what he's learned (and continually learns) so that fellow grandparents can build strong relationships with the teens in their lives.

Grandchildren will change the way you love.

"Having grandkids was amazing to me cause I never knew that I had another capacity to love in a way that, that I'd never experienced. I kept telling my daughter, Hey, just know that I'm not good with babies. I really don't like, I really don't like toddlers, you know, elementary school kids bother me. I can't stay in middle school kids, but when they turn into teens, I'm all in. [Mark’s daughter] would say at times, ‘Dad, it's almost like you like them more than us!’ And I go, ‘Well, I do!’ When our first grandchild was born, when I heard her cry for the first time, it was almost like God opened my heart. I found there was a part of my heart I'd never known. Here was the new opportunity for a Mulligan – a do over – an opportunity to do something different. So with all of my skills that I have of relating to teens – I've done that since I was 19 – what I realized was if I continue to do the same thing, it wasn't going to work. I learned that as a grandparent, I have to engage differently if I want to maintain that relationship."

Your relationship with your own children will change too.

"If the relationship is already strained, I think what a grandchild does is put life in perspective and it can bring a family back together. You know, you gripe about little things and then you realize it doesn't really matter. Everybody takes that next step into the next stage of life. You know, I think that it sure has the ability to change the direction of a family because it allows you to quit complaining about the little stuff and start focusing on what's important."

You’re getting older, and that’s okay.

"I think a lot of people have a tough time becoming a grandparent because it proves that they're getting older, you know, and they just have a tough time with that because I don't know whether they know how to get older and they sure don't know how to be a grandparent."

Adolescence is difficult, and your grandkids need you.

"You know, I think what happens is that they're going through another stage of life. I mean, the hormones do kick in, their social circles begin to enlarge, the things they used to like, they now hate, and  the things they used to hate they now like! The pressures are even more, the relational ability of this generation is minimal at best. And I think the exposure to different things in the world makes them begin to understand that this world isn't quite the perfect place that everybody made it out to be. And that's hard for kids. I think the transition into adolescence is hard. And so I don't think they become rebellious at all. I think they just get lost and, and they're lost in their ability to take what they've learned in their pre-teen years and apply it to what they're going to face during their teen years."

Parents need you to fill in the gaps.

"Parents don't shift their parenting style and add some new tools to their parenting toolbox. They keep trying to parent the same way they parented in the early years. And it just doesn't work. They've got to move from a teaching model truly to a training model that says you're going to take what we taught you  and help you learn how to apply that to the world that you live in. I think it's hard for parents to do that because they're still trying to maintain a home and keep the rules and make sure the consequences are right. But that's where a grandparent can kind of come in and help out and add the relational component that those grandkids are not getting from anybody else."

As your grandchildren get older, your grandparenting style must change.

"[In the past] you retired at 65, you're dead by 68. That's how it used to be. And now everybody's living longer. Most people I've talked to have all said ‘I didn't know my grandparents. We had no relationship. So how do we do this thing?’ And I tell them all the time, whatever you do during the pre-teen years, it's not going to work during the teen years. But that's when your grandkids need you the most is during those teen years to offer that worldly wisdom and gray hair and insight that they're not getting from traditional ways."

If you’re the only parent in their lives, always set aside time to be a Grandparent.

"I think the figure is somewhere around 3 million grandparents in this country are parenting their teen grandchildren, and that's a significant piece. It's kind of like what I tell a single mom. There's times that you need to be the mom and there's times that you need to fill in for the absent dad. It sounds silly on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, be the mom. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, be the dad. And so for a grandparent, on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, correct your grandkids on certain required things, but somewhere on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, there's gotta be a break where they get to engage with you as grandparents, really the greater role, because that's where they're going to get the wisdom in life that they won't get from a parent. They don't want a grandparent's opinion about everything. They want a perspective on life that says ‘Out of what you've observed, what you've reflected on and what you've experienced, what do you think about this?’"

Your perspective matters to them.

"It's funny because I've been a youth minister in a church. I was a Young Life area director. I worked at Kanakuk Christian sports camp in Branson, Missouri for eight years. It’s amazing to me at 66 years of age, I have more kids wanting to spend time with me now than I ever have before in my life. And it's not because of what I have to offer. It's what they're perceiving they can get that they're not getting in their world. That's where I truly long for kids to come up and say, ‘Hey, Mark you smoked pot when you were in high school’ and ‘Mark, you and Jan had sex before you got married. And what that indicates is a depth of relationship that they're looking for.

"Genuine honest answers that say, ‘How do I take what I've learned, these biblical standards, these values, these morals, how do I take all of that and apply it to this culture that I'm living in? Grandparents can spend all their time griping about the culture – You're not going to change a thing. And so what you do is engage differently. You can offer your teen grandchild something that they're not getting.

"Every time you hear about grandparenting, and pictures you see, it's all grandparents with little kids, four, they turned 12 You see very few pictures of teens with grandparents. And that's because the grandparents have become irrelevant. They've either become so judgmental that kids don't want to be around them, or as their social circles enlarge the grandparents are the ones that get lost. And so grandparents got to be very intentional about how they pursue a teen because it's different and make sure we remain engaged."

You might be asking ‘So, how can I engage with my grandkids?’

"I say, ‘Well, go ahead and do something with them!’ Go, spend time with them, take them on a trip. ‘But where would we go?’ Ask them where they would want to go. What would they want to do? What restaurant do they want to go to this? It's not about you anymore. I mean, I've already had enough years that I'm really done with people listening to me. I think now it's my turn to listen to them, and so it just means that I'm going to do what they want to do.

"There's a lot of people that say, ‘I can't afford that.’ You can't afford not to. I think a lot of times people just save money, save money, save money, and you know, a legacy isn't what you leave in your grandchild's bank account, but it's what you've deposited in their hearts throughout your life. And so I want to, I've told my kids, I'm spending all the money!"

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