1.) Tell them how ‘easy’ they have it compared with their ancestors. Ok sure, teens of the 21st century may not have all of the back-breaking physical tasks of older generations, and they may be better off financially, but in many ways, it is more difficult being a teenager now than at any other time in history. The amount of pressure put on teens today from parents, teachers, peers, coaches, and society as a whole with respect to academics, athletics, and appearance is staggering. Every older generation has thought that the younger generation has had it ‘easier’ than they did. And that is not necessarily true on all counts. Rather, we need to connect the generations through common human experiences and emotions. Grandparents, sit down with your grandchildren and tell them about a time when, as a teenager, you argued with your parents or felt like they just didn’t understand you. Talk about a time when you had a crush on a particular boy or girl who didn’t even know you existed, or when someone who you loved died. These types of experiences transcend time and can help to bridge the generation gap.
2.) Show them a pedigree chart as an introduction to family history. You may be saying, “What’s wrong with a pedigree chart?” Well, to a teenager who is more or less indifferent to family history, a pedigree chart is boring and looks like some sort of study guide a teacher might hand out at school. Instead, start with photos and heirlooms, and weave interesting family narratives around those pieces. Then, go a step further; use that old photo of great-grandma to help your teen design a vintage 1940s outfit for herself, or give an heirloom to your teenaged student for a mixed-media art project. If a teen you know is into music, share with them the music you enjoyed as a kid – some teens today are incredibly talented in mixing their own music digitally and may even be inspired to combine decades-old music with modern styles.
3.) Criticize the popular technology, music, clothing, and social norms of today. Imagine a grandparent saying to his or her grandchild, “This music is awful. Back when I was in high school, we listened to good music,” or “I can’t stand all of this new technology. Times were so much simpler and better when I was a kid.” Do you think statements like these are going to get kids wanting to learn about the past? Just like every generation before them, teens are fiercely protective and sentimental of the societal influences and trends that are popular during their comings-of-age. More sensitivity is required on the parts of parents and grandparents when it comes to accepting – not necessarily embracing, but at least accepting - these pieces of their lives that teens find so important. And more emphasis needs to be put on incorporating the stories of our younger family members into our family histories. Why should teens respect the stories of the past, if we don’t respect the stories of their present?
©2014, copyright Emily Kowalski Schroeder