'Grandparents matter' and can be a positive influence, studies show
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Whether it is sitting around the dining room table, watching a Saturday morning soccer game or video chatting via the Internet, the presence of grandparents in a child's life seems to have huge benefits according to a recent study out of Brigham Young University.
Jeremy Yorgason, lead author of the study and professor at BYU, called the study results significant. "Grandparents influence children in minor, yet important ways. … The influence of parents is very strong, yet above and beyond that, grandparents matter."
Researchers came to this conclusion after gathering and looking at data from the Flourishing Families Project — an ongoing study from the past five years that involves 500 families from the northwest area of the U.S. and includes information on individuals from all different races and backgrounds.
To look at the influence of grandparents, 408 grandchildren ages 10-14 were interviewed about their relationship with their grandparents. A year later, those grandchildren were contacted again to assess their emotional development. In the study there were no custodial grandparents (grandparents acting in a parental role to raise the grandchildren) and none of the participants live at the same residence as their grandparents.
Results from the study suggested to researchers that the grandparent and grandchild emotional relationship is related to pro-social development, meaning there is a correlation between grandparent involvement and how their grandchild treats others and, in some cases, how they perform in school.
One of the important parts of the study is that researchers looked at the attachment the youth had towards their own parents, Brother Yorgason said. "Parental attachment or influence is huge, but what our study suggests is that even beyond that, grandparents can have a positive influence on their grandchildren."
One of the reasons researchers gave for the connection to positive social development and grandparent involvement was that frequent contact with another adult other than a child's immediate family helps adolescents to develop key social emotional skills that are fundamental to positive social development. Another reason could be because nonresidential grandparents are less likely to take on a parent-like role, so they are more likely to focus their efforts on fostering positive development, rather than discipline.
"If there is a 'take home' from this study, it is, 'Let's try and involve grandma and grandpa in some of our activities, or some of our routines and rituals,' " Brother Yorgason said. "Yes, involve them in Thanksgiving and Christmas, but also in a little more."
The study included questions for the grandchild to answer about their relationship with their grandparent. After they selected a grandparent they feel close to, they were then asked to rate different elements of their relationship. Questions included topics of grandparent involvement in making big decisions, communication and the role grandparents play in talking through problems or giving advice.
Although the study didn't look at distance between grandparents and grandchildren, Brother Yorgason said that even grandparents living far away can have a positive influence.
"I don't think that distance is a huge issue," he said. "If you live close to your grandparents you are more likely to spend more time with them, but you don't have to be living nearby to ... feel emotionally close. A grandparent can live far away but you may feel very connected with them."
Grandchildren with more grandparent involvement were more likely to look outside of their family and friend circles to reach out to others, they were more likely to help others even when inconvenient or hard, and were more service oriented and likely to volunteer.
Brother Yorgason said the age of the grandchildren involved in the study — average age 11 — was also important to the study.
"It is a time of crossroads," he said. "These are where those important decisions that President [Thomas S.] Monson talks about often occur."
Looking to examples in the scriptures, Brother Yorgason spoke of the love and concern parents — and grandparents — have for their posterity.
"There is something about family ties even across generations, most feel very strongly about their children and grandchildren," he said. "Multiple generations can have a positive influence like Adam blessing his posterity and Lehi and his posterity."
Just as the ancient prophets had a positive influence on their posterity, grandparents today can leave a legacy for their children and grandchildren, Brother Yorgason said.
"There is love and concern and caring for their grandchildren, and a sense of the legacy being passed on," he said. "Your efforts do pay off, while maintaining appropriate balance. Over involvement can lead to problems."
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve stated in the June 2003 Ensign, "I hope parents will not overlook the potentially powerful asset grandparents can be. Grandparents can be welcomed and listened to in formal councils or on informal occasions. They've walked the road of life 30 or more years longer than anyone else in the council. Even if grandparents live far away, grandchildren can call or email; I know ours do. A single parent may have this resource and may not be utilizing it. Grandparents can be a tremendous resource."