Today is International Women's Day, so we're focusing on the special bond between a teenager and her grandma - which, given the tumultuous year we've all had, is more precious than ever. Teenage girls have never been under so much pressure, from the relentless bombardment of images of 'perfection' in the media to living so much of their lives online - especially as the pandemic has forced many of our social interactions to be virtual. But as a grandparent, you’re in a unique position to be able to help your granddaughter counter that pressure and give her treasured gifts that will last a lifetime. Author Siobhan Curham explains how…
Get more grandparenting tips with our newsletter...
Every day your granddaughter is being bombarded by images of how 'perfect and flawless' she is supposed to look. Often these images will have been airbrushed and photoshopped, making them almost impossible to achieve. As her grandparent you can counter this by helping her build a healthy body image. Every time you see your granddaughter, make a note to compliment her on how she looks. My grandma would always tell me that she loved my blue eyes and how cute my dimples were. To this day, when I look in the mirror, I remember her words and how much they meant to me at the time - and still do.
My grandparents would love to talk about my achievements and although this would sometimes make me squirm with embarrassment, inside, my confidence was unfurling like a flower.
As a teenager I could often become wracked with self-doubt, but regularly seeing myself through my grandparents’ proud eyes helped instil a belief in me that I was intelligent and talented.
Being a grandparent gives you a special status. Parents are the ones who nag teens to get their homework done, tidy their rooms, turn down their music, 'do as I say'. As a grandparent you can avoid that particular mine-field - you can be the fun one.
Spending quality time with your granddaughter is another great way to help build her self-esteem. I still treasure the memories I have of time spent alone with my grandma - baking together, going for walks, polishing her collection of silver - and all the time building a unique and special bond.
Suggestion from GNHQ: Current lockdown restrictions obviously make this slightly difficult now, but that doesn't mean you have to drift apart. Make time to regularly phone your granddaughter for a catch-up, or for a Zoom call. It's a difficult time for so many, and with teenagers cut off from their friends they might be feeling lonelier than usual.
The more quality time you spend together, the more you create the opportunity to become a trusted and much-needed confidante to your granddaughter. Teen peer pressure can often make girls reluctant to open up to their friends for fear of being judged, and they can be reluctant to open up to their parents for fear of getting into trouble or being misunderstood. A grandparent, on the other hand, can often provide a welcome and non-judgemental shoulder to cry on.
Understanding your granddaughter’s world can really help when it comes to being a trusted confidante and this is especially true when it comes to the online world. With phones and tablets and laptops and video games, most teens today are almost permanently plugged into the internet. This can be a great thing but it can also place them under a certain amount of stress. By finding out more about the online world your granddaughter inhabits, you’re far better able to offer support and advice should they fall victim to something like cyber bullying. I’m not talking about spying on their social media accounts but finding out more information about the online world generally will make you far better equipped to help should the need arise.
The fact is, you’ve been alive a lot longer than your granddaughter and you have so much valuable life experience you can share with her. Along with the sun rising every morning and it always raining on a Bank Holiday it’s a fact of life that teens don’t much like being told what to do, so it’s important that whenever you do share the benefit of your wisdom with your granddaughter it’s done in a laidback and non-judgemental way. Think two friends comparing experiences rather than an adult lecturing a child.
A great way of sharing your wisdom with your granddaughter is in a letter. Most teens today have probably never sent a letter but that definitely does not mean they wouldn’t like to receive one. Emails and texts are ten a penny today but a letter, on paper, in an envelope is something they can keep forever. I still have an old chocolate box full of letters my grandparents sent me. The paper is yellowing now and the ink fading but I still treasure hearing my grandparents’ voices coming from the page.
The chances are, you might never receive a reply to your letters but don’t let this put you off. Teens today have more distractions than ever before. There are many things that my grandparents did and said that continue to help me to this day. I’m not sure I ever properly thanked them at the time - I was too busy being a teenager. But there isn’t a day that goes by now when I don’t think of them with love and gratitude. By showering your granddaughter with unconditional love you will be planting lifelong seeds of security and self-love deep within her - surely the greatest gift you can ever give another person.
Siobhan's book, True Face is packed full of exercises, advice and inspirational case studies designed to help teen girls and young women live confidently and authentically.