As my own grandchildren got older, it became clear that maintaining strong connection was increasingly challenging as their schedules grew more demanding and their academics, extracurriculars, and friendships predominated. Something else was clear too: that the high school years are a critical period during which close bonds with caring family members are more important than ever.
At the same time that our grandchildren are demanding autonomy and privacy, they may be grappling with issues that can be intensely overwhelming: challenging new academic undertakings and social pressures, drivers licenses, and first-time employment; drug and alcohol use, sexual behavior and gender-identity questions, to name but a few. Knowing what is happening in their world, in their school, creates context for discussion; you can log onto their high school’s website* to keep abreast of what is going on in their community, and to be able to inquire about their sports teams or theatrical productions, regardless of how far away you live.
Sometimes a teenager will feel more comfortable confiding in an empathic, nonjudgmental grandparent than in a parent.
(*Even after they go off to college, you can access their school’s website and read their school paper online. For additional insights into the world of your college-age grandchildren, see College Tips for Parents.
Recognizing that these years are such critical ones for young people, I approached the administration of our local public school, Deerfield High, with an idea to create a “Grandparents’ Orientation Day” as part of the annual back-to-school programming. I couldn’t have hoped for a more enthusiastic buy-in from the school’s administration.
Beginning with the freshman year and continuing through all four years of a student’s high-school career, grandparents will be invited to meet their grandchildren’s teachers and to hear a panel of students (from the subsequent grade) discuss what the new academic year will entail. Each month, they are kept abreast of what’s going on at Deerfield, including coursework, sports, theater, and other extracurricular activities, via a student-produced e-newsletter, “The Grand Connection,” that is posted ever month on the school’s website.
Thanks to the hugely positive response to this program, I’ve begun working with several other Chicago-area schools, both public and private, who have expressed interest in creating similar initiatives.
Whether or not it would benefit your own grandchildren, if volunteerism is in your blood, you might consider approaching a high school in your area to see if they would be interested in launching such a program.
Becoming involved in your local school system or in an organization that promotes join social-action activities with youth is an excellent investment in a stronger and more connected community. And nothing keeps you young like being around young people!