• Michael Bauer

Reaching out to a grandparent to say "Hello" or "I love you" can be difficult as a young adult

young adult teen messaging grandparent

In a world where teens and young adults are rarely seen without a smartphone in their hand, this seems like a problem that shouldn't exist. And yet, at least in my experience, trying to get my teenage daughter to connect with my father (who is 86 and lives in another state) has been difficult.

Keeping generations connected in today's world should be easier than ever, so what's going on here?

Asking my daughter if she reached out to her grandpa and doing my best to keep my dad up on new technology, I have noticed a few key challenges that are certainly making it harder for them to connect.

Phones aren't used as phones

The first and obvious challenge that I see is that most teens and young adults don't like using their smartphones as actual phones. In my case, my daughter actively avoids talking over the phone.

Is communication preference the issue?

Yes! This difference in communication methods certainly adds to the issue. My father would much rather talk over the phone but has adapted to the world of texting with family as a way to try and stay connected.

Where to meetup

So how do we get multiple generations communicating in their preferred way? Do we use our phones, tablets, laptops and social platforms? The answer is all the above, but that in itself creates issues when it comes to ensuring everyone in the family is staying in the loop.

Checking In vs Catching Up

Even if the method of communicating is in sync, the time commitment involved in starting up a conversation can deter you from reaching out. If you are looking to just check in, sending a message might result in a significantly longer conversation, so opting to check in often gets pushed to a later time, with the belief you’ll have more time.

If you want to talk, finding a time where grandpa is available and both the schedules align can feel overwhelming.

And if you want to just get a text thread going, it may be hours between texts. I think the anticipation of starting up a conversation can be stressful for everyone, especially for teens and young adults.

young adult teen coffee shop messaging grandparent
"Hey grandpa, getting caffeinated before diving into the school books for an upcoming test."

The Experiment

With all of these communication challenges, I thought I’d try a simple experiment by eliminating the “how to best communicate” and instead focus on the type of content being shared. Getting away from the common “catching up” communication -- such as how’s the weather, how was your week, did anything exciting happen -- I wanted to see if sharing a real-time experience via a photo and comment would result in a more meaningful and interesting interaction between my daughter and her grandpa.

So I asked my daughter to send her grandpa a photo the next time she was doing something she felt was routine or common in her day-to-day life. She wouldn’t have to respond or anything, simply send the picture with a caption. With my excellent dad persuasion techniques, she agreed.

Later that day, my daughter sent her grandpa a picture of her at a coffee shop with a simple caption, “Hey grandpa, getting caffeinated before diving into the school books for an upcoming test.”

and then...silence. At least for a while anyway. He responded later that day, via text:

"That reminds me of my days of studying. Good luck on the test, I look forward to hearing how you did".

Wow! Ok, I know this isn't the most groundbreaking exchange, but you can imagine my excitement seeing these two sharing their lives with one another.

On a call later that week

My dad was still talking about how wonderful it was seeing his granddaughter in her everyday life, and how it brought back memories of all of his kids at that stage in their lives.

With his level of excitement in his voice, you would have thought he was sitting across the table with her earlier that week.

Was the experiment a "success"? I guess it depends on how you look at it. Although my daughter and her grandpa haven’t increased their level of interaction, my daughter’s real-time photo/caption generated more meaningful engagement between the three of us than I was expecting. My belief is if we can remove the pressure on "how to get in touch," by finding easier ways to encourage real-time communication, my daughter will have a real chance to get to know her grandpa, and vice versa.

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Michael Bauer