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What Not to Say to Your Teenage Grandchild

Comments About Appearance Can Be Risky for Grandparents


Grandfather and Teen With Cell Phone

A grandfather and a teen grandson enjoy a laugh over a cell phone.

Photo © Bloom Productions Taxi | Getty Images.

Unless you are a very unusual grandparent, you occupy a different world from the one your teenage grandchild lives in. There's a fine line between trying to understand a teenager's world and being nosy or critical. Here's a list of what not to say to teenage grandchildren. (Don't say these things to their friends, either.)

  • Can't you live without that phone? Teenagers can be very attached to their electronic devices. You can ban phones during meals and certain family occasions, but basically this is a war you're not going to win. Try making technology a way to connect rather than a divisive issue.
  • Oh, dear, you had such lovely hair. This comment, made after a grandchild has adopted a new cut, color or style, is clearly a criticism of the change. Hair is one of the primary venues for teenage self-expression. Most grandparents prefer hair that is its own natural color, as well as being simply styled, clean and well-brushed. Guess what. We don't get to choose.
  • How much did you pay for those jeans? It's almost always rude to ask someone the price of a possession. If you're asking about a pair of distressed (read: holey) jeans, don't think that your implied criticism will go unnoticed. If you can't say something nice about a grandchild's clothing, say nothing at all.
  • Have you gained some weight? No topic is quite so loaded as the topic of body size. Maybe you think your grandchild looks better with a few more pounds. It doesn't matter. The topic of weight is a minefield. Don't go there.
  • Aren't you filling out nicely! Grandchildren tend to get creeped out by older people observing their bodies, even if the older people are their grandparents. The very worst thing is to make this kind of comment in front of a lot of people.
  • You have such a cute nose. If you compliment one particular feature on your grandchild's body, he or she is likely to interpret it as meaning that the rest is sub-par.
  • You look just like your aunt. When you compare a grandchild to an older family member, you may be picturing that person as a young person. To the grandchild, being compared to someone old doesn't feel like a compliment. If you must compare a grandchild to someone else in the family, be sure it's someone who is universally loved, if you have such a person in your family.
  • How can you call that stuff music? Don't criticize their taste in music, movies, TV shows or other elements of pop culture. They are reacting to forces much stronger than a grandparent's preferences and also practicing forming their own taste. Most importantly, your disapproval won't change a thing.
  • What do you think is going to happen in Pretty Little Liars? If you are genuinely interested in teen TV, questions like this one are fine. If you're just trying to be cool, your grandchildren won't be fooled. Stick to your History Channel if that's what you like.
  • What happened to that cute guy you brought over on Thanksgiving? If you are a certain type of grandparent, you'll be told about your grandchild's love life without asking. If you weren't told, don't ask. Teenage break-ups can be very sore spots. And if there is no sign of a boyfriend or girlfriend, that can be a touchy area, too.
  • I'm so glad that you don't have any tattoos or piercings. Not so fast, Grandma. Can you be sure that your grandchild doesn't have such body adornments? It's best to keep an open mind, just in case.

You'll notice that many of these things-not-to-say are about appearance. Whether they affect a high-fashion look or a deliberately unkempt air, most teens are very concerned about their appearance. Of course, they also have a lot of interesting ideas about the world at large, which you may get to hear, if you have learned what not to say.

More what not to say:

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