I’ve noticed grandkids rank just behind cats as the most common topic showing up in my Facebook news feed. Not being a cat person, I don’t really understand everyone’s fascination with cats … but I can understand why grandkids get so much love. Certainly it has a lot to do with the average age of my Facebook friends. What else do we have to take pictures of? On the other hand, let’s admit it: pictures of grandkids are just too darn cute not to share with others.
Until they become teenagers, that is.
That’s when the photos and videos slow down considerably. Teenage grandchildren just aren’t as cute as they were when they were doing face plants in the birthday cake or playing patty cake with grandma.
Of course, the drop-off in grandkid photos as they get older could also have something to do with the elusive nature of teenagers and the fact that it’s not really very cool to have your picture showing up on your grandparents’ Facebook feed.
But there’s more to it than that. When grandkids become teenagers, grandparents often begin paying less attention to them, spending less time with them and having fewer conversations with them. So what’s going on?
When I was a teenager I memorized the verse “Don’t let anyone despise you because you are young …” 2 Timothy 4:12 (KJV because there was no other). I had a hard time relating to the word despise, because I never felt despised because of my youth. I wasn’t despised by my parents, my grandparents, my church or my school or anyone else. I really wasn’t sure who this verse was written for.
But times have changed. Teenagers today know what it feels like to be despised. There is even a word for it: ephebiphobia (an irrational fear of youth). Jokes about teenagers have become legendary: “When a child turns 13, nail him shut in a pickle barrel and feed him through a knothole. When he turns 15, plug up the knothole.” Ever since adolescents were classified as a separate stage of life by psychologists, sociologists and the advertising and entertainment industry, there has been a growing enmity between the generations.
But God loves teenagers. He loves young people. I think it’s significant the only details we are given about the life of Jesus besides His birth and three years of public ministry is His adolescence. The elders in the temple (Luke 2) were amazed by Him at 12 years old. All through scripture we read of young people who did amazing things for God.
Adolescence is an important time of transition, when children become adults. And what God wants is for teenagers to transition themselves toward becoming mature adult followers of Jesus Christ.
It’s unfortunate that church youth ministry has had a tendency towards warehousing teenagers in youth groups, isolating them from the rest of the church. They are treated not as young adults but as older children.
Psychologist Robert Epstein calls this the infantilization of teenagers. In his book Teen 2.0: Saving our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence, Epstein identified 14 core competencies which define adultness and designed a test called “How Adult Are You?” (which you can take online if you want). He administered the test to hundreds of teens as well as to adults in their 40’s and 50’s. The results were nearly identical for both groups.
Truth is, most teens by the time they are 16 or 17 years old have all the competencies they need to do amazing things for Christ and for others. What they lack is opportunity, experience and some encouragement from adults.
This is where we come in as grandparents.
Rather than ignoring our teen grandchildren or waiting for them to grow out of it, we can be engaging with them more, teaching them what we know, having meaningful conversations with them, listening to their ideas and helping them make a safe transition from childhood to adulthood.
And if you take a selfie or two with them, you’ll also have some good material for your Facebook page.
Wayne is the Director of Conferencing for the Legacy Coalition. He is the co-founder of Youth Specialties and Understanding Your Teenager and the author of numerous books on youth and family issues. He also served as Pastor to Generations for several years at College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego. He and his wife Marci live in Alpine, CA and have three children and five grandchildren.