BY JERRY WITKOVSKY
What’s the best way to stay connected to your grandchildren as they age?
The short answer is the way that works best for the two of you. But with so many communication options available now, it can be hard to navigate. And what happens when your favorite modes of communication don’t match?
Last fall Deerfield High School hosted its annual Grandparents Day event attended by nearly 300 grandparents. I collected surveys from them as part of an evaluation project I undertook to measure how schools, grandparents, grandchildren, and families overall are enriched by grandparent programs in the schools. As part of the survey we asked grandparents and grandchildren about their preferred modes of communication.
The top preferred ways for grandparents to communicate was in person or by phone. The top mode of communication for grandchildren was text and Snapchat—or some mode that was connected to their smart phone.
It’s no surprise. Many of us have experienced a grandchild focusing on their smartphone even when we are together in the same room! So what’s a grandparent to do?
It’s about negotiation
While we are not “digital natives” (aka born and raised with technology) Smartphones are not going away, nor would we want them to. So, if our goal is to “enter our grandchild’s world,” it behooves every grandparent to learn some basics. No matter what new tools I learn, I will still prefer a personal connection. I want to hear the emotion that accompanies their words, be it sadness, joy, or excitement.
We know that we share love for one another, but generational differences in communication can create barriers if we let them. That’s why it’s about negotiating a communication plan, and then evaluating it periodically to make sure it still works.
For example, my granddaughter may admit that she doesn’t listen to voice mail messages. Ever. “So how will I know that you’ve gotten my call,” might be my response. “I promise I will call you back every time that I see that you have called,” might be a good compromise. “But, Grandpa, it would be helpful if you could also learn how to text. That way if I am in the middle of something when you call, I can text you back to let you know when I’ll be free.” At this point I need to be willing to learn. “Okay. Can we set aside time for you to teach me how to text?”
“Okay. Can we set aside time for you to teach me how to text?”
Through this process of negotiation, we can figure out what works best for each of us. And this negotiation will be different for each grandchild—each will have preferences, including the smart one who says “I communicate best in person when you take me out for ice cream sundaes.”
I’m not a tech person, but I welcome new ways to communicate if it will bring me closer to my grandchildren. Even knowing what’s in (using Snapchat for texting) or out (don’t leave a voice message) can help me figure out the best way to connect. If I am familiar with the website at my grandchild’s school I may know when a test is coming up to call with a good luck wish, or I know when practice is for sports—hence not a good time to call.
It’s about negotiating a communication plan
Set a time for evaluation.
When I was in the business world I never liked the process of annual evaluations. One year later, after things may or may not have not been working, was not the time to have a first conversation. Quarterly check-ins are much better. What should we do more of? What should we do less of?
Setting up a system and then checking to make sure it’s working is the way to go. Technology changes every day…in three months’ time new platforms and technologies will have evolved, and they are not always more complicated. Voice to text and easier interfaces can make communication continually easier.
Regardless of the platform we use, we already have the basics — deep love for one another, and a yearning to connect.
About the Author, Jerry Witkovsky
What ideas have you implemented in your family? How do you unleash your creativity and unique gifts to transform your family? Please share with me at email@example.com.
Author of The Grandest Love and a long-time social work professional, grandparenting activist, and passionate grandpa, author Jerry Witkovsky offers fresh approaches to help grandparents enter their grandchild’s world, to leave values, not just valuables and create a living legacy. www.thegrandestlove.com.