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Long gone are the days when even distant relations were of vital importance. Today, the nuclear family is the most important unit. As a result, scientists have devoted an immense amount of research on the social and psychological impact of a parent-child relationship. However, this is not the only bond shared between children and adults, even in these unprecedented times. Notable findings have emerged in recent years, shedding light on the remarkable benefits of a healthy bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. The results also show that both parties, the grandparents and grandchildren, benefit from this type of relationship.

According to a study recently published in The Gerontologist, the occurrence of depressive symptoms reduced in both grandparents and adult grandchildren as a direct result of emotionally close ties between the two groups. The study was conducted by Boston College researchers and involved 374 grandparents and 356 adult grandchildren, all participants of a larger survey. In the course of this study, researchers examined data collected over a span of 19 years.  In general, close grandparent-grandchild relationships are usually an indication of strong family bonds. Even so, Sara Moorman, the study’s lead author, states that intergenerational ties can offer their own unique benefits. Intergenerational relationships are becoming even more important as life expectancy increases and people live a little bit longer.

Double edged life lessons

Aside from connecting them to a much younger generation, grandparent-grandchild relationships expose grandparents to different ideas, most of which might have otherwise remained limited. For the grandkids, their grandparents often provide an unmatched level of wisdom, which they can put to practical use as they navigate through the different stages of life. Sara Moorman reiterates the adage that grandparents have a wealth of knowledge and experience. They are known to recount their life stories and how things worked during the early stages of their lives. Sara Moorman, an associate professor of sociology whose study is, in fact, a tribute to her grandmother, adds that children can maximize those lessons as soon as they become adults.  Additionally, grandparents can give their grandkids a first-hand historical perspective, which enriches their lives by providing a much a better understanding of the past.

Social and psychological benefits

The findings of earlier studies associated strong grandparent-grandchild ties with easy adjustment and pro-social behaviors among children. For instance, research on English kids aged between 11 and 16 found that close grandparent-grandchild ties contributed to fewer emotional and behavioral problems, as well as significantly reduced difficulties with peers.  Additionally, strong grandparent-grandchild relationships aid in reducing the adverse impact of distressing experiences like divorce and bullying. Studies support the conclusion that this type of relationship boosts our overall health, especially since emotional, behavioral, and adjustment issues are all associated with the need for increased medical attention later in life. For grandparents, being involved with their grandchildren might help to keep them mentally acute. A recently published Australian study found that grandmothers who watched their grandkids performed far better on cognitive tests compared to those who did not mind their grandkids and those who didn’t have grandchildren. Interestingly, the study linked watching grandchildren for one day every week to better test performance than minding them more often. It’s, however, notable that the larger family context has a great impact on the bond between grandparents and grandchildren. According to a study of Israeli teens, the closer the tie between teenagers and their parents, the stronger and more beneficial their grandparent-grandchild relationships become. Strong grandparent-grandchild bonds are considerably more effective in minimizing emotional and behavioral issues, specifically among teenagers who share very close ties with their parents. Also, grandparents often complement good-quality parent-child relationships. According to the study’s author, Shalhevet Attar-Schwartz, both parent-child and grandparent-grandchild relationships contribute to reduced adjustment issues among adolescents.

The role played by parents

By bridging the generation gap between grandkids and grandparents, parents help to shape grandparent-grandchild bonds and can, therefore, influence the strength of such ties. Attar-Schwartz states that parents serve as gatekeepers in grandparent-grandchild relationships, a fact they should be conscious of at all times. Parents should also realize that grandparents are a potentially valuable resource in the lives of their children, particularly in the event of significant changes such as remarriage or divorce, or when the child goes through a painful or challenging experience. Because opening up to their grandparents might be a lot easier, children can choose to share their difficulties and dilemmas with grandparents.