QUESTION: I really try not to be critical, but this issue is really bugging me. We have six grandchildren (all in their teens) and every time they visit, they don’t enter into the conversation we’re having with their parents and other family members. They just constantly stare into their cellphones and text their friends.
I’m really interested in hearing what they have to say, how they are doing at school, etc. What can I say to their parents that won’t stir up bad feelings? I don’t want the grandkids to not want to visit because their cellphones have to be turned off. And both gramps and I want a loving relationship with them.
~ Love My Grandkids
Dear Love My Grandkids,
I know of your frustrations, only with my own children when they were teens. I will encourage you by saying that mine are now in their early 20s, and have developed more courteous social perspectives.
Teens are in their own world much of the time. Often they are preoccupied with intense social dramas amongst their peers, all earth shattering by their estimation! The relationship might feel disjointed from our perspective, but family is where our teens can really feel safe to be “how” they are feeling. Teenagers feel awkward easily and, to be fair, we have to consider that they are relatively new to the game of life. Given time, teens grow from junior adults into actual young adults by our standards. Their interests become broader and they naturally develop social grace, making it easier for them to comfortably initiate conversation.
I would go right after what I wanted with my grandkids. I wouldn’t wait for them to start a dialog with me; I would make first contact! Show my loving interest with gentle inquiries about school and other pursuits. It may be quite a dance to keep the conversation going in the beginning, but as an elder you’ll be up to the challenge. Look for some common ground of interest to build on. Grandparents can hold a very sacred place in the lives of their grandchildren. The amount of love that has expanded and deepened in the heart of a parent by the time they rank as “Family Elder” can prove a very powerful presence and influence. I found that teenagers require flexibility and patience, and a whole lotta love.
Kim Winders, RScP
Center for Spiritual Living – La Crescenta
Dear Love My Grandkids,
What you’re experiencing is being multiplied around the world. Families across the globe are being divided by helpful machines that bring us both together and force us apart. I have discussed your letter with my own family. Some of my response comes from them.
It took Americans a while to learn the rules of the road when the horseless carriage came out or learning proper etiquette for the telephone when it was new. So also with cellphones. Your grandkids simply do not understand how disrespectful ignoring the person in front of them is when they bury their faces in their cellphones. It is rude. It’s like holding up a sign in the middle of a family event that says, “I’m unavailable for you.” To ignore this means that you are not teaching them to show others the respect they deserve. Yes, it’s awkward, but if you point this out, you’ll be helping them and reaping the benefits also. Mom and Dad should have dealt with this already so that grandma and grandpa don’t have to. But if they won’t deal with the discourtesy of their children and you’re tired of being offended, then I offer two different approaches. One is low tech and the other is high tech. First the low tech.
1. Welcome them to your home in print. Type up a sheet that lists what you’d enjoy hearing about from their own lips. Begin with why you’re so glad they came to visit. Hand it to them individually. Tell them you look forward to hearing from each of them before they leave. (God brings us together. The devil drives us apart.)
2. A face to face with Grandma and Grandpa is harder for them than leaving their cellphones off. Taking each grandkid aside individually will be awkward at first but will become easier and more fun over time. It will also thwart the cellphone.
3. Ask them if they remember a specific fun memory they had with you before they had a cellphone. Please remember this, Grandma: Talking with grandparents is a gift not everyone gets. Maybe you have a memory or a funny story or an anecdote or bit of wisdom you’d like to share one on one.
4. Let them spend some time on their cellphones.
This brings me to the high tech approach (which my wife says is too cynical):
1. Get your own cellphone.
2. Get the cellphone number of each of your grandkids.
3. Learn how to text. This is irritating to learn but ultimately rewarding and worth it.
4. If your grandkids insist on rudely ignoring the live people God has put in front of them in the room, then it’s time to fight back!
5. Start texting your grandkids! Interrupt their cellphone experience from the same room. “Gosh! My grandma is texting me! OMG.”
6. Do they do this at the Christmas dinner table? I hope not. But if they do, keep your cellphone handy for a quick text between the gravy and the green bean casserole.
7. Your grandkids will be shocked. Now ask the questions you’ve been wanting to ask. You mentioned how things were going in school, etc. Start there. But here are some other texts that you can send that are sure to get your grandkids attention:
“Holy smokes did u see that Justin Bieber is retiring!? What’s up with that, dear?”
(To your granddaughter):
“Gramps and I just saw ‘Hunger Games.’ Is that Liam Hemsworth a hottie or what! He’s a Hottie McHotterson! Also, how are your classes going honey?”
“I like Katy Perry but Gramps prefers 1D. Who do you like? And did that rash ever clear up, sweetie?”
I promise you that having the courtesy necessary to look you in the face and talk to you is easier than answering these texts. Choose whichever approach you like, Grandma, but do something! Because I promise you, a conversation with you is worth it.
Rev. Jon T. Karn
Light on the Corner Church
QUESTION: Yet another school shooting has occurred. I know school administrators are doing everything they can to avoid these situations; however, there seems to be a missing link. In this latest one, the young man was “over the top” angry. To me, these are warning signs and I doubt anyone even tried to diffuse his anger and his feelings of rejection.
Do you have any advice for parents, family members, and school authorities that would help to head off potential disasters like these?
~ Concerned Parent
Dear Concerned Parent,
I agree the school shootings are a warning sign of something that needs to be addressed. There are many ways a parent can help their child navigate through the complex and difficult situations their children will face in life. I strongly urge families to take the time to educate themselves on how to manage anger, and resolve conflict in a way that heals. Society has a role to try to reduce the stigma of mental illness and provide services that help individuals cope with depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
When it comes to the spiritual health of an individual, I believe the church can be a partner with society in creating healthy communities. First, each person is a child of God, loved without reserve by the Creator. In the Bible there are stories of how God is involved intimately with us. The awesomeness of God is we are known by God – every weakness, every desire, every hair on our head. And God calls all good, so we can count on this blessing for our lives. Society tends to judge us in all kinds of ways, whether we are normal or not, whether we are hard working or not, whether we are patriotic or not, by the color of our skin, the language we speak, our sexual orientation. However, in God’s eyes we are all loved; we have unconditional acceptance. Sometimes churches can be the opposite, trying to restrict who is in and who is out, to the disappointment of God. That is contrary to the good news that God loves us. By loving God, we are loving the God who loves us.
Second we are to love one another as God loves us, with mercy, forgiveness, understanding and a desire to help one another. We judge one another so harshly sometimes. I know of so many situations when a person was judged because of the behavior they exhibited. Living with conflicting feelings, of wanting to love our children and sometimes wanting to send them away to boarding school for the rest of their lives is the reality of what we wrestle with on a daily basis. We get angry, we get anxious, we get self-righteous, but what we choose to do with those emotions depends on how much we love one another. Do we seek out counsel? Do we let go of the hurt? Do we make good decisions that bring reconciliation? God, of course, cries when we have chosen poorly, but only because God is sad when we move away from the path to abundant life. God uses David who sins against humanity when he uses his authority to marry Bathsheba and have her husband killed. Yet, God was not finished with him and used him even then to rule over a united kingdom.
So, there is much more to talk about than this space allows, so let me leave at these two building blocks for further conversation: know that God knows and loves you, and we are to share that love. These help us build healthy communities free from violence and death.
Rev. Steve Poteete-Marshall
Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church
Dear Concerned Parent,
Many times when we are faced with a challenge, we go to God and tell God how big and powerful our fears and troubles are. Rather, we should turn to our fears and troubles and tell them how big our God is.
There is no circumstance that is more powerful than God. God, the Divine Intelligence, knows no obstacles. The activities of the world are facts but they are not the spiritual truth. What we experience are conditions, effects, and they are a direct response to the thoughts we – singularly and collectively – are putting out in the world. We view the world from what is inside of us. If we feel fearful, we will experience the world as threatening and unsafe. If we feel peaceful, we will experience the world as loving and harmonious. Fear and worry over what’s going on in the world will only create more of the same because what we focus on expands. Where we invest our thoughts and energy today creates our future experiences.
In a very real sense, how we stop any violence is by having good communications in all of our own personal relationships – expressing our feelings in healthy ways, listening to our loved ones and responding kindly to all those in our lives. Each of us can only be responsible for ourselves and, therefore, as we create right relationships in our world, the world at large heals exponentially.
There is a still small voice of God within each of us – no exceptions – and it will guide us if we let it. It is the voice of love encouraging us to be our best selves. We cannot control anyone’s behavior but we can choose how we respond to that behavior. Believe in the Oneness of all of life and live from that place. It is the place of complete compassion and understanding that realizes that everyone is worthy of our love and kindness.
God never forsakes us. No one is ever forgotten or left alone because God is at the very essence of our being. Trust in that power and it will wrap you in a strength and courage that will support you in all ways.
Tomorrow grows out of what we think and feel today. Choose wisely!