Although long conversations over hot cocoa have their place, grandparents who really want to stay connected with their tween and teen grandchildren must become users of technology. Actually, this is an opportunity for grandparents to learn from their grandchildren, as most tweens and teens know all about text messaging, instant messaging, social networking and other types of technology. Although it’s important for you to learn to use technology, learning your teen's or tween's boundaries is also vital.
Text messaging. A QWERTY keyboard makes texting easier, but you can learn to send short messages without one. Don’t feel that you have to learn the lingo. The kids may say “CUL8R,” but “See you later” is perfectly acceptable. Tweens and teens sometimes prefer text messages to phone calls because they don’t have to answer right away when they are doing something else. Also, text messages are more discreet. They don’t have to put their coolness factor at risk by talking to grandparents in front of their friends. When texting first became popular, some families were hit with huge bills, but most young users now have unlimited texting. Do tell your grandchildren not to answer your text messages if they are driving. And if you should get a text message during school hours about something like the Battle of Shiloh or the chemical formula for chlorine, it might be wise not to answer!
Instant messaging, or IMing. In this form of communication, both parties are online at the same time, and they type messages to each other. It’s more like a real conversation or “chat” than texting or emailing because the responses can be so rapid. MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger are the most popular IM programs. Many other programs, such as Facebook, also support IMing.
Social networking sites. Chances are excellent that your teenager belongs to Facebook. (Preteens are not allowed to have Facebook accounts, although many break the rules with impunity. If you are on Facebook, you can request “friend” status and view your teenager’s site, but discuss this with your teenager first. Parents should be monitoring their teenagers’ sites, so that is not really your job. Chances are that your grandchild won't mind your being a "friend," but he or she will probably appreciate it if you avoid these 10 Facebook no-nos. Another possibility is that your grandchildren have abandoned Facebook -- too many "olds," not cool -- in favor of these other social networking sites.
Video chat. If you are a long-distance grandparent, you'll want to know how to video chat with your grandchildren. The two most popular programs are Skype and, for those who use Apple products, FaceTime. It's helpful to arrange video chats ahead of time. (You can send a text message setting up a time.) Have a couple of topics in mind, and strike a balance between talking about yourself and asking questions. You don't want to come off as either self-centered or nosy. Since you are viewing images instead of just hearing sound, you can meet a grandchild's friend, see a new outfit or check out a new dance move. Although long-distance grandparents are likely to be the heaviest users of video chat, other grandparents will find many occasions to visit on-screen, especially when either they or their grandchildren are traveling.
Email. Unfortunately for grandparents, who have probably mastered email, it’s little-used by most tweens and teens. It has been largely replaced by instant messaging and text messaging, but it's possible that it can still be a way of connecting with your grandchild. It’s important to know your tween's or teen's email habits. Some check email constantly, and some check rarely. In the second case, consider a text message to alert your grandchild when you send an important email. If you love forwarding jokes, inspirational messages, funny pictures and the like, ask your grandchildren before you add them to your email list. Some enjoy such messages; others hate them.