I've always been close with my Grandma Marilyn. At 77, she's still a vital part of our family, providing lots of humor, advice, and the occasional present. But according to a new study, grandparents like Grandma Marilyn are even more valuable than I realized. It turns out that when grandparents are involved in their adolescent grandkids' lives, those kids have fewer behavior problems—and this is especially true for at-risk kids.

In the study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers looked at a wide cross-section of secondary school students in England and Wales, ages 11-16. These adolescents were categorized into one of three family groups: families where kids lived with both their biological parents, families where kids lived with one of their parents and either a step-parent or a parent's partner, or single-parent families.

The researchers then gave the kids a questionnaire to assess both their relationship with their grandparents and their social, emotional, and behavioral well-being, paying special attention to the amount of kind, helpful behavior they displayed toward others.

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The results showed that kids were equally close with their grandparents across all three family types, though adolescents from single-parent families and step-families had more behavioral and emotional problems than kids living with both of their biological parents. However, the researchers uncovered evidence suggesting that grandparents might help address these problems: Adolescents whose closest grandparent had a high level of involvement in their lives reported fewer emotional problems and more positive behaviors than those who had less grandparent involvement. This link between grandparent involvement and social-emotional well-being was actually weak among adolescents from two-parent biological families, but it was quite strong among adolescents from single-parent and step-families.

These findings are especially significant given that rising life expectancy is increasing the number of three- or even four-generational families. Based on their results, the authors argue that "public institutions, such as schools and welfare services, need to recognize grandparents as a potentially important source for support in adolescents' lives in general, but in particular, for those increasing number of adolescents going through family transition."

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