When my wife and I were shopping for a new home before the birth of our third child, one factor influenced our choice of neighborhoods above nearly everything else: proximity to her parents.
Admittedly, the decision was in part a selfish one. Let’s face it: When you have three small children, you need all the help you can get. But we also knew a time would come when their relational influence (not just their ability to babysit on short notice) would come more and more into play, too.
Six years later, that day has arrived. Our kids see and interact with their grandparents almost daily. Since then, my parents have moved close by as well, providing even more opportunities for intergenerational contact and influence.
I realize that not everyone has the luxury of being close to grandparents, for many reasons. But for those who do have extended family nearby, the relational dividends may be significant as children get older.
A new study from Israel indicates that teens who have strong, loving relationships with their grandparents have fewer behavioral and emotional problems than teens who don’t. Specifically, researchers looked at how those relationships affected issues such as hyperactivity, anxiety, social skills and involvement with fighting and bullying.
“Adolescents living in a family system with multigenerational close relationships can be seen to belong to families with high levels of cohesion and solidarity,” say the authors of the study, which was published in the Journal of Orthopsychiatry. “The strengths of bonds in the family are associated with increased resilience and improved chances of good adjustment.” In addition, grandparents are an important relational resource when friction builds up between parents and teens. During tense times, researchers said, grandparents with strong relationships with teens can help provide “support and mediation when family problems arise.”
Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Ann Lukits says that these benefits are present regardless of how strong teens’ relationships are with their parents: “For teens with average emotional closeness to their parents, contact with their closest grandparent was linked with significantly reduced adjustment difficulties, though the reduction was moderate. For teens who had very close parental relationships, the closest grandparent played an even stronger role in reducing adjustment difficulties.”
You don’t have to look far these days for news stories that focus on factors that are negatively influencing teens. So it’s refreshing and encouraging to come across research that indicates a grandparent’s presence in the life of an adolescent can make a significant difference.
My own children aren’t teens yet, but I can definitely see how their relationships with both sets of grandparents are molding and shaping them in significant ways, from reinforcing positive attitudes toward piano practice and doing homework, to making healthy choices when it comes to snacks and eating, to praying for friends who are having a hard time (something that both pairs of grandparents value).
I hope that dynamic continues to be in play as they get older. And this research suggests that I have reasons to be optimistic that it will.