The prominent stage theorist Erik Erikson talks about “old age” as a period of great productivity and associates it with “giving.” However, if you ask teenagers to define old age, they would immediately provide you with labels, such as; nagging, narcissistic, shrewd, overbearing, embarrassing, boring, depressed, backward, and so on. Things aren’t much different if you ask an old person about teenagers.
Teenagers cannot deny the reality that they are going to get old, no matter how much they try to keep in shape, eat healthy, or find an awesome plastic surgeon. Similarly, older people cannot deny all those embarrassing moments and difficulties which they had experienced as teenagers. However, both tend to forget these realities. We can see a more intense form of this tension in a grandparent-grandchild relationship. The responsibility of managing the relationship falls on the grandparents, as they are more mature and experienced. However, many adults cannot successfully adjust to old age and most of them can never come out of the shocks that midlife crisis brings them. Many grandparents are accused of not ‘acting their age’ because they are so lost in translating the gibberish of fast-paced life. They do not think much or prepare enough for their role as a grandparent and cannot recognize the root cause of all the trouble.
The Depressed Grandparent
The majority of teenagers find their grandparent to be ‘too depressed.’ The depressed grandparent is one who does not wish to add any life to the house. It is ironic that these grandparents feel un-needed in the presence of their children and grandchildren, who actually want their involvement in the household. These adults may have a very negative and pessimistic view of life, and they do not trust the affection of the family members. Because of this distrust, they stop talking to their children and grandchildren, like to stay alone in their rooms, like to eat alone, and keep to themselves. These behaviors make other family members feel that they might be bothering the old person, and so they start giving him or her space. The old person misunderstands this and his or her self-fulfilling prophecy comes true (They neglect me and do not want me), leaving them more depressed and lonely.
The Royal Grandparent
Some teenagers complain that their grandparents act as if they were the king or queen of the house. The royal grandparent has a huge ego, which is the root cause of much tension in the household. The rebellious and carefree teenagers pay little attention to the orders of this grandparent. This causes the grandparent to pressure their children into having the grandchild obey them, the parents either pressure or fail to pressure their children into doing so, and the negative cycle continues.
The Buddy Grandparent
Opposite the royal grandparent is the buddy grandparent, who tries his/her best to gain the approval of the grandchildren. They are desperate and have a deep need for belonging. They are extremely interested in the lives of their grandchildren. They usually talk a lot and do not act in seeming accordance with their age so that they can be friends with the grandchildren more easily. We can see many examples of such grandparents around us, particularly the grandmothers who smother and pamper, and even insist on accompanying the grandchild to special occasions or activities which they may have wanted to enjoy alone or with friends. Their over-attachment becomes annoying and they may go as far as buddying friends of their grandkids. Basically, the buddy identity develops out of a fear of loneliness and abandonment, and they cannot draw the line between attachment and over-attachment.
The Competitive Grandparent
Buddy grandparents are more common in collective cultures, as families in collective cultures live together and encourage the involvement of grandparents. However, the competitive grandparent is more on the personal side than the cultural. It is common in both collective and individualistic cultures. These adults often express a mixture of both histrionic and narcissistic personality traits. They can be a bit on the aggressive side and find no shame in competing with their grandchildren or other adolescents. A grandmother trying to get down to size zero and hitting the same gym, as soon as her granddaughter decides to get in shape, is an example of a competitive grandparent. Another example may include a grand-dad proving his financial superiority by buying his grandson’s favorite car, which he cannot afford to purchase for himself.
Psychologically, competing with teenagers takes them back to the period when they were young and enthusiastic. By competing and winning, they feel that rush again. Competing and failing may have poor consequences on their self-esteem and overall psychological well-being.
The Love-struck Grandparent
Some older people are able to feel young forever when it comes to matters of love and romance. The cupid never fails to notice them, or, if I may put it in the boring way, they have unresolved intimacy issues and are indecisive about commitment. The love-struck grandparent never settles down with one person and keeps on exploring new partners, which can be embarrassing for their children and grandchildren. Imagine your grand-dad hitting on your teacher, or worse, your girlfriend. This personality type brings up issues such as: breakups, misunderstandings, unplanned pregnancies, cheating, and heartbreak.
The Hypochondriac Grandparent
On the contrary, some people take old age way too seriously. They are so afraid of dying that they forget to live. The only way to avoid death is to be very careful about every single change in their body. A pimple can be perceived as cancerous, a migraine viewed as a tumor, and even a mild cramp in the left arm as the beginning of a heart attack. These are the hypochondriac grandparents, and whenever you try to talk to them, all you get is an exaggerated account of minor and negligible health issues.
The Moral Police Grandparent
It doesn’t matter for them how moral or immoral they themselves were as teenagers, they do not spare any chance of identifying and condemning a behavior which is not in accordance with their view of morality. They do not find it offensive to bash the teenager and do not care much about the absence or presence of people while they do it. This is the moral police grandparent, common in collective cultures, for example many traditional Asian cultures. Sometimes, the generation gap makes things worse. For instance, a grandmother can consider homosexuality inappropriate, while the teenager’s parents may not have any problem with the child’s sexuality. Such situations and unwanted lessons on morality can irritate both children and grandchildren. The moral police grandparent loses respect for being too narrow-minded.
The labels given to the grandparents can be utilized by those who are going to enter the world of ‘grandparenting.’ These labels provide guidelines to be a cool grandparent without being too attached or detached. The coolest grandparent is a brand that we can create for the betterment of ourselves. It is the way we can be more giving in our old age. The cool grandparents, in the words of Jules Renard, do not focus on how old they are but on how they are old.
The coolest grandparent understands the demands of each age and knows the crucial role which mistakes play in learning.
They do not panic if the teenager is caught in a bad situation and has made a major blunder, because they understand that at this age they should provide wisdom and support whenever the grandchild fails to rise after a fall.
The majority of teenagers feel that they end up saying the wrong things every time they try to communicate with their parents. Here, grandparents can act as mediators between them. It’s easier for them to see both sides of the situation and they can help effectively address the problem. In this way they earn the trust of their grandkids and are considered dependable.
The coolest grandparent understands the miracles of quality time. They find new and indirect ways to engage the grandchild with them. They provide their grandchildren an opportunity to be their teacher. Teaching one’s grandparent about an iPhone, video game, or some gadget will not only build rapport but will also provide a sense of respect for the grandparent. These cool grandparents make learning a ritual which ends up being enjoyable for everyone.
Finally, the cool grandparent is a complete role model who believes that actions matter more than words. They actively participate in the betterment of the society in which they live. They plant trees, offer guidance, work or form social welfare groups, care for animal rights, and are in touch with global issues. They have tolerance and respect for all cultures, races, and groups in society, and they promote much needed values for growing teenagers who are heading toward behaviors that may not be constructive. The increase in depression and other emotional problems among young people indicates that they need stronger anchors to hold onto. They might not need as much therapy and may recover from challenging psychological situations more quickly if they have ‘cool grandparents’ who are there for them.