Grandparents have a unique role in a child’s life. Often serving as quasi-parents, grandmothers and grandfathers have the opportunity to shower their grandkids with love and attention while avoiding the typically difficult duties of parenting, such as discipline, changing diapers, mealtimes, and bedtime.
In their exceptional roles, grandparents may see sides of their grandchildren that parents don’t see, or don’t see clearly. Sometimes a teen feels more comfortable confiding in a grandparent than a parent. And sometimes, an adolescent is more relaxed and less guarded when they’re around anyone but their parents.
That’s why grandmothers and grandfathers are sometimes the first to notice problems or difficulties teenagers may encounter.
For example, take depression. While a teen may put up a false front of good cheer around parents and siblings, a grandparent may notice something is amiss.
Also, while parents typically see their teen every day, it might be harder to notice concerning symptoms develop, especially when they develop gradually. Meanwhile, visits to the grandparents may only occur every few days, weeks, or months. That means grandparents might discern changes in the parents can’t – it’s almost a can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees type scenario.
So what happens when grandparents notice their grandchild is struggling with mental health or substance use issues?
Talk to the Parent
Of course, the very first thing you want to do is talk to your child—your grandchild’s parent.
Start simply. Ask, “Have you noticed anything different with [Teen A]?”
If they sigh and corroborate your concerns, then you cleared the first hurdle. Try to emphasize the importance of seeking mental health or substance use treatment as soon as possible. When it comes to adolescents and teenagers, early intervention increases the chance of success. Explain to them that there are different levels of treatment for varying levels of need.
In Los Angeles, for example, there are many different teen treatment options such as residential treatment centers (RTCs), partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs).
But what if your child – the teen’s parent – hasn’t noticed anything wrong, and doesn’t think anything is amiss?
Elaborate on your concerns – with concrete examples. Show how certain actions or statements the grandchild has made are worrisome. If you think you need more evidence, print out articles from reputable sites showing how the symptoms your grandchild presents may indicate mental health, emotional, or behavioral issues.
My Adult Child Won’t Listen
So – you had the talk. You gave examples. You shared articles. But what if your child turns a deaf ear and shrugs off your concerns? What if they think their child is going through typical teenage stuff?
That creates a tricky situation, but there are still a few things you can do.
First, you can turn to your son- or daughter-in-law. Sometimes adult children dismiss their own parents’ advice out of habit or reflex. Their spouses, on the other hand, may be more open to hearing and accepting what you have to say.
If you know any mental health professionals, you can also talk to them about how best to proceed with your specific situation. Explain your grandchild’s symptoms to them. Although they will say they can’t formally diagnose your grandchild without seeing them, ask if they think the behavior might be attributed to a typical teen stuff – or if they think your concerns are valid.
Step In For Your Grandchild’s Wellbeing
While you cannot commit your grandchild to mental health treatment if you’re not their legal guardian, you still try and convince everyone involved that your grandchild needs – at the very least – a formal mental health assessment administered by a professional.
Don’t be concerned that your statements will be taken the wrong way. If you’re truly worried about your grandchild, and you have a real reason to believe they need teen treatment, we support you and believe you should reach out and share what you know with the parents. Sometimes, grandparents are afraid to step in and say what’s on their mind out of fear the parent will get offended and decide to limit visits.
While that might happen, remember: your grandchild’s health and wellbeing is at stake.
It may be worth ruffling a few feathers to get your grandchild the help they need.