Watching my children with their grandparents is one of my favorite parts of parenting. It was something I decided early on to foster because I could see that the grandparents felt almost as much love for my children as I did. They looked at them with a love and interest no other adults did. I wanted my children to have as many people in their life to look at them with adoration.
This recent study shows that the benefits extend beyond your child when they have a positive relationship with their grandparents. Published in the journal Child Development, the study investigated the relationship between grandparent contact and ageism. Children as young as three have been found to have prejudiced beliefs about older people. The current study wanted to investigate what, if any impact, grandparent relationship had on ageist views in children.
The study found that ageist stereotypes in children generally decrease around ages 10 to 12, and that children who say they have very good contact with their grandparents have the lowest levels of ageism. “The most important factor associated with ageist stereotypes was poor quality of contact with grandparents,” says lead researcher Allison Flamion. “We asked children to describe how they felt about seeing their grandparents. Those who felt unhappy were designated as having poor quality of contact. When it came to ageist views, we found that quality of contact mattered much more than frequency.”
1,151 children and adolescents ages seven to 16 from a range of socioeconomic statuses participated in the study. The researchers obtained children views’ about the elderly and getting old via questionnaires. Information about the health of the youths’ grandparents, how often the two generations met, and how the young people felt about their relationships with their grandparents was also collected.
The study found that opinions about ageing expressed by the children were mostly neutral or positive. Girls held less ageist views and had a more favorable view of their own ageing. The most prejudice was found in seven- to nine-year-olds and the least by 10- to 12-year-olds. This outcome is consistent with cognitive developmental theories. At the age of 10 perspectives taking skills build and this reduces prejudice in general. However, prejudice was also high in the 13- to 16-year-old age group.
Quality contact with grandparents was found to be the most important factor influencing youths’ views of the elderly. If children rated the contact as good or very good, defined in the study as feeling happy or very happy when they saw and shared with their grandparents, the children tended to have more favorable feelings toward the elderly than those who described the contact less positively. Meaningful contact with grandparents resulted in the most positive views and the most negative views of ageing.
Quality of contact mattered more than frequency of contact but frequency did have an effect. 10- to 12-year-olds who saw their grandparents at least once a week had the most favorable views toward the elderly. This is likely due to the multiplying effect of frequency with quality according to the researchers. Grandparent health also impacted on ageist views. Children with grandparents in poor health were more likely to hold ageist views than children with grandparents in better health.
“For many children, grandparents are their first and most frequent contact with older adults,” notes Stephane Adam, professor of psychology and co-author of the study. “Our findings point to the potential of grandparents to be part of intergenerational programs designed to prevent ageism. Next, we hope to explore what makes contacts with grandparents more rewarding for their grandchildren as well as the effects on children of living with or caring for their grandparents.”
When grandparents offer grandchildren a safe, loving and quality relationship, it seems the benefits extend beyond the child and the family relationship. Seeing grandparents more often can also help, but only when the relationship offered is a quality one. These important relationships can help shift views of ageing which is important in our society as people live and work longer.