Families need to show love, acceptance
Alexis Bentz is a senior at Wootton High School in Rockville, Maryland. She has been writing this intergenerational column for the Beacon since middle school.
The structure of the typical family has changed drastically in the last 100 years.
In the early and mid-1900s, the traditional family consisted of a mother, father and children. Divorce, homosexuality, single parents and biracial relationships all existed, but because they were taboo, they were often hidden in public.
Today, nontraditional types of relationships have become far more accepted in contemporary society. Just turn on the television: Commercials and shows portray biracial and gay couples, single-parent households and other familial configurations, revealing just how much society has adapted.
Gender roles within the family have also changed. Today women have more freedom and opportunities to work and less pressure to have several children.
More recently, the whole question of gender has become a topic of the news and other conversations, with more recognition of individuals who identify as neither male nor female, or as a gender different from the one assigned at their birth.
With these rapidly changing views, and resulting changes in family dynamics, many older adults may at first be taken aback. However, since many of these changes may be occurring within their own families or those of friends, it is important to be cognizant of these new realities.
Regardless of a family’s composition, teens and seniors can agree that loved ones are an integral part of life.
What teens need from elders
You’re probably all familiar with the moody teenager trope. As a certified teenager myself, I can say that the stereotype of being grumpy, avoidant and perpetually embarrassed by our parents isn’t true for all teens.
Even if adolescence is a time of rocky family dynamics, that doesn’t mean that family becomes unimportant. Quite the contrary. Many emotional challenges and changes occur during the teenage years, making the nurturing presence and support of parents — and grandparents — imperative.
Some people incorrectly assume that teens want nothing to do with older adults — a stereotype I, and others, are working to overcome.
According to a 2001 Gallup Youth survey, “eight in 10 American teens say they see their own grandparents or the grandparents of close friends at least five or six times per year, while 57% say they visit their great aunts, great uncles, older cousins or other older relatives that frequently.”
The survey also revealed that 77% of teens age 13 to 15 have a close friend who is an older adult. In other words, the bond between teens and older adults can vastly impact the younger generation.
Taking this into consideration, it becomes even more important for older adults to model acceptance of the modern family. Teens should feel as if their living situation, even if different from the traditional one, is normal, healthy and acceptable.
The next time you interact with a teenage friend, have a discussion about the changing face of the American family. Talk about changes in relationships and gender roles, and perhaps consider what societal conditions and historical context prompted these changes.
And be sure to remind each other to be respectful of differences, and to love and accept your family for what it is. In the process, you’ll be spending some bonding time with a teen who needs and appreciates your guidance and support.