How grandparents can stay connected to their grandchildren who are away at college
BY KAREN L. RANCOURT
When grandparents are asked about barriers to spending in-person time with their grandchildren, distance is listed as the biggest barrier: “Over half of grandparents have at least one grandchild who lives more than 200 miles away, and about a third live more than 50 miles from their closest grandchild.”
Much has been written about ways to close the geographical gap between grandparents and young grandchildren.
One of my favorite resources is Dr. Kerry Byrne’s website The Long Distance Grandparent. I highly recommend her “31 Ways to Stay Connected with Your Young Grandchildren,” and a podcast in which she is interviewed, “The Importance of Grandparents & Intergenerational Connections.”
Less information is available for ways grandparents can stay connected with their grandchildren who are away at college. In the remainder of this column, I suggest how grandparents can have a presence in the lives of their away-at-college grandchildren without being intrusive or overbearing.
Suggestions for staying connected
Let me begin by saying I cannot overemphasize the value of using “no need to reply” (NNTR). College students have enough on their to-do lists without the added pressure of having to respond to the various reach outs from their grandparents. Therefore, when communicating with grandchildren, especially digitally, I advise asking for a response only when necessary.
For example, if a grandparent is responsible for picking up a grandchild at the airport, it is fair game to ask, “What airline and what time does your plane arrive?” Otherwise, include NNTR in digital communications, and you will almost hear a sigh of relief! In fact, you may get an unsolicited response once the pressure to respond has been removed.
Other suggestions include:
- Morning messages – every morning the first thing I do is send my grandsons (one in high school, one in college) a graphic or meme of some kind, sometimes something amusing, other times something to let them know I’m thinking of them, or perhaps something a bit risqué (I think they like these the most!). https://tenor.com/search/hope-all-is-well-gifs – I have found this a good resource because I can search for specific themes, e.g., “have a nice weekend,” “miss you.” I recently asked my grandsons if they like these morning messages and they both said to keep ‘em coming. (Note: My grandsons have given permission to be included in this column.)
- Send favorite foods and treats – including menus and choices. A variation on this is to send something for a tailgate if your grands are into these. (It’s fine to ask them for a thumbs-up text tap back when they receive anything sent to them.)
Of course, sending a special homemade package is great, but for those of us not into baking, there are many good commercial options available. One of my favorites is Goldbelly – lots of choices, fair prices, accommodation for dietary restrictions, fast and dependable service.
- Text current family news and photos – in addition, my husband and I often pass along photos of their parents as kids that we come across with a brief explanation of the backstory.
- Recommend things to stream that you know they will enjoy. For example, one of our grandsons is big on poker, the other Marvel movies; always appreciate learning about related movies and series. Some great discussions have resulted from our watching them, too. We also ask them what books we can send them related to their interests – another crowd pleaser!
- Include them in Family Zoom and FaceTime invitations – as busy as they are, we have found the grands often tune in, sometimes from their dorm room, other times from the cafeteria, or locker room; sometimes they join alone, other times they include roommates and other friends.
- Keep it short – when we have the good fortune to get a phone or FaceTime call from one of our grands, I assume the role of timekeeper because my husband would keep them talking for hours if he could!
After a few minutes, I introduce closure by acknowledging that we know how busy they are and that we appreciate their call. Sometimes they will say, “No, it’s fine, I have a few more minutes”; other times the call ends.
- Sign up for newsletters for parents/grandparents/family members – most colleges offer one; some are weekly, some are daily. They are a great source for learning about campus activities and events. Knowing what’s going on and can be an opportunity to text a grandchild a comment or reminder.
For example, “I see in the newsletter that there is a deadline for getting tickets for some activity … just a reminder to sign up.”
Sometimes the college newsletter contains information, research, and knowledge that helps to better understand the issues and challenges our grandchildren are dealing with.
For example, I found this newsletter article so contributive to my understanding of college students’ growth and development that I printed it out and keep it by my desk: “Important Inner Work Your Students Do Outside of the Classroom,” (copyright © Betsy Chapman, Ph.D., Wake Forest University, The Daily Deac, September 23, 2021. Used with permission, all rights reserved.)
In closing, I hope these suggestions help grandparents be connected to their at-college grandchildren in ways that are fun and welcomed by all parties involved.
Here are two other columns I have written for grandparents with grandchildren headed to or attending college:
- “How Grandparents Can Help Their College-Bound Grandchildren”
- “How Grandparents Can Be a Front-Line Resource for College-Age Grandkids”