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.
Email. Unfortunately for grandparents, who have probably mastered email, it’s seen as somewhat old-hat by most tweens and teens. It has been largely replaced by instant messaging and text messaging, but 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. Some love forwarded jokes and funny pictures; others hate them. Gear your communications to your grandchild’s tastes.
Social networking sites. Chances are excellent that your teenager belongs to a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace. Preteens are not allowed to have accounts on these sites, although many break the rules with impunity. If your teen grandchild is into social networking, you can create an account that will allow you to 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. If your teenager doesn’t want you to view his or her site, that is a good opening for discussing the inadvisability of posting questionable material. Chances are that your grandchild won't mind your being a "friend," but he or she may prefer that you not post public messages. It's that coolness factor again. If so, stick to private messages and emails.