Should grandparents share their views on sex, drugs, and alcohol?
BY KAREN L. RANCOURT
A reader recently sought my advice. She wrote: “Our two grandchildren have just – gasp! – entered their teen years. We’re hoping you can give us advice on talking with them about peer pressure and issues involving sex, drugs, and alcohol.
“We are fortunate in that we are on the same page as their parents in these matters, but we also feel that as their grandparents we might have some different approaches and opportunities to share than what they have with their parents.
“Our grandchildren are very open with us, for example, when something happens in their lives they call to tell us, so we want to make sure these lines stay open.
“Is it even our place to engage with them on these topics?”
You are correct in feeling that many grandparents hold exalted positions in the eyes of their grandchildren. As pointed out in an excellent pamphlet published by Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, “The Power of Grandparents: Grandparents Play an Important Role in Preventing their Grandchildren from Drinking and Using Drugs,” “Grandparents are cool. Relaxed. They’re not on the firing line every day. Some days a kid hates his folks. He never hates his grandparents. The same kid who cons his parents is ashamed to lie to Grandma or Grandpa. As a grandparent, you hold a special place in the hearts and minds of your grandchildren . . .”
That said, I applaud you and your husband for wanting to exercise caution in sharing your opinions and experiences with your grandchildren when it comes to the topic of the peer pressures they are facing, or most likely will face. (For a quick, and perhaps distressing, understanding of today’s peer pressure among young people, I recommend watching a seven-minute video from NBC News Today, “ ‘Teens Tell All’ In Candid Talks About Drugs, Sexting, Hooking Up: What Every Parent Needs to Know.” And, I hasten to add, what every grandparent needs to know!)
Parents are going to have varying positions on whether they want the grandparents involved in discussions with their children about various serious topics, depending on their parenting practices and the relationships involved. Options for the grandparents include: (1) No involvement; (2) Some involvement with preparation; (3) Free reign.
Check with the parents first!
Even if you are pretty sure which of the three options applies to you, I urge you to double check with the parents first.
Here is a suggested statement to initiate the conversation between you and the parents: If our grandchildren ever want to talk with us about drugs, sex, or alcohol, how would you like us to respond? Here are some possible responses to what we could say to them:
- We would rather you have these kinds of serious discussions with your parents. (No involvement)
- We’d be more comfortable doing some research and thinking before responding, so what are some of the things you’re interested in knowing more about? (Some involvement with preparation, and a chance to inform the parents)
- Tell us what’s on your mind and we’ll give you our thinking and comments? (Free rein)
I cannot overemphasize the need to check with the parents to get an idea of where they are vis-à-vis the three general areas of responses I suggest, even when you think you know how they’ll respond. Many a grandparent has rued the day they miscalculated the appropriateness of their involvement, perhaps being accused of crossing boundaries, and finding they jeopardized their relationship with their grandchildren’s parents.
Some preliminary discussion about what’s acceptable and unacceptable is warranted, especially when it comes to sensitive issues that include parents’ values. Everyone benefits from having a coordinated strategy in place.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – KAREN L. RANCOURT, PH.D.
Karen L. Rancourt, Ph.D., writes an advice column for parents and grandparents at Mommybites.com. Her most recent book is, It’s All About Relationships: New Ways to Make Them Healthy and Fulfilling, at Home and at Work.