Juan found out that his 14-year-old granddaughter has a boyfriend, and it caught him off guard. “She’s too young!” he said. No young man is good enough for your granddaughter, right?
That’s a comment we might expect to hear from a father or mother, but if you’re raising your grandkids, they need you to address these issues. (Even though they probably don’t realize it and would never admit it.)
Well, grandparent, until we return to the old system of arranged marriages, we’re going to have to deal with our granddaughters befriending or dating young men who won’t immediately win our approval. Having said that, maybe it would be appropriate to make sure that she brings her dates to spend time with the family. If he is truly interested in her, he will jump at the chance to spend time with your granddaughter, as long as the family treats him with kindness and respect.
It’s a scary time for grandparents, but it’s also a great opportunity because it forces us to address issues and questions that can be a little awkward. Have these important discussions, ideally before your grandchild becomes attached to someone. Talk about what the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” really mean, as well as the concept of dating—its purpose and long-term result.
The first question should be whether your grandchildren will date in the first place. And of course, there is a difference between having them spend time with your family, going on group dates, and dating one-on-one. In any case, some see more negatives than positives with the traditional approaches to dating, and find other ways to encourage their grandchildren’s social life.
No matter what you decide, your grandchild needs your input on what’s appropriate and what isn’t, including what a young man is probably thinking when he’s with your granddaughter. Talk through responses she can make in certain situations, like when she needs to get up and leave, and how to say “no” and mean it. Make sure she knows she can call you if she needs to get away from a bad situation, no matter what the circumstances are.
Also, set up rules for who, what, when, where and why she can be alone with a young man. One grandfather said that, when he was a teenager, he wasn’t allowed to bring a girlfriend into the house if a parent wasn’t home. His first response was, “You don’t trust me!” His dad’s reply was, “You’re absolutely right.” He was a responsible teenager, but his parents wisely removed some opportunities for temptation right from the start.
It’s valid to put limits on when and where a teenager can spend time with members of the opposite sex, but we also need to talk about the reasons behind the rules. Because while our rules and limits will help, we also need to train them—and trust them—to handle the unexpected situations that could come up.
Now, how do you handle it when a boyfriend is hard to accept, for whatever reason? Let’s look at some considerations.
First, the most important question is this: Is he a young man of integrity? If not, then you have an opportunity to sit down with your granddaughter and share your heart. And be cautious here. Unless there is something truly dangerous going on, this isn’t a time to give ultimatums or make demands.
Instead, act more like a counselor. Tell your granddaughter your hopes for her and her future partner. Talk through scenarios that she’ll face, and help her see the great advantages they’ll have—and problems they’ll avoid—if they’re on the same page morally and spiritually. We know teenagers don’t always use sound reasoning when making decisions, but you can plant seeds and reinforce good values.
But even if he is responsible and trustworthy, grandparents can always find reasons to be skeptical about a boyfriend. So then the question to ask is, Why am I having a tough time accepting this young man?
Again, sit down with your granddaughter and find out what attracts her to this young man. Listen closely. It may be valuable to have another mature family member present. Make sure you’ve listened before giving your response.
Understanding and affirming your granddaughter during the adolescent years is not easy, but it’s critical. Find specific ways to support her and help her mature. Go out of your way to demonstrate your love for her in word and deed. I’ve seen many grandparent/granddaughter relationships strengthened when grandparents took the first step toward a better relationship.