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.
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."