Lorien Smith, 11, recently moved to Idaho, but when she lived in Utah she loved to spend time with her grandparents. Her grandma taught her to cook and sew and her grandfather told her stories about his childhood. What Lorien doesn’t know is that the relationship she has with her grandparents will influence her the rest of her life.
New research by Jeremy Yorgason and Laura Padilla-Walker of the BYU Department of Family Life, aided by student Jami Jackson, shows grandparents have an effect on children’s social behaviors. The research was published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence, using data collected from 408 families with children in the fifth grade.
It indicates when grandparents are involved in their grandchildren’s daily lives, the children are more social and more involved in school. They are also more likely to show care and compassion for people outside their immediate circle of friends and family.
This relationship is stronger in single-parent households and is also stronger in situations where the grandparents do not live with the child.
“Grandparents matter above and beyond parents,” said Yorgason, head researcher on the project. “They are an important resource.”
One possible reason for this correlation is that having regular contact with an adult outside of immediate family develops pro-social skills essential for social development.
“Pro-social skills measure how much kids are able to think outside themselves,” Yorgason said.
Another possibility is that non-resident grandparents take on a role that encourages positive development rather than disciplining negative behavior. This may be particularly important in early-adolescence when parent-child conflict increases.
“[My grandparents] taught me some manners,” Lorien Smith said.
Lorien’s mother sees even more insight into the effect her grandparents have had on Lorien.
“I think they have had an effect on her because they are patient with lots of people and lots going on,” said Marta Smith, Lorien’s mom. “They taught her to be accepting of other people and kind to everybody.”
This research supports the idea that family members support loved ones facing challenges. One possible cause is that financial involvement of grandparents provides parents with the resources to encourage educational development. If parents are less preoccupied with financial problems, they have more time to devote to helping their children with homework and can more easily provide school supplies.
“Maybe grandparents help them focus on school more,” Yorgason said.
This association is stronger among African-American families. This could be attributed to cultural differences regarding financial support. When financial help is received, it is expected that it will be used to support child education. The association could also be related to stronger familial relationships among minority families.
“Grandparents are like the National Guard,” Yorgason said. “If there is a problem, they come in and help out.”