Monday, February 29, 2016

Connections With Grandparents Stabilize Teens

It's rough being a teenager, but having a loving, involved grandparent really helps teens smoothly transition through these turbulent years. While teens are busy individuating and separating from parents as they need to do developmentally, grandparents can be a safe place to attach emotionally. Teens with close, loving relationships with a grandparent are likely to have fewer emotional and behavioral problems than teens without that attachment.

A recent study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel surveyed 1,405 teens ages 12 to 18, involved in a larger study. Teens who enjoyed a close relationship with both their parents and grandparents experienced the lowest amount of adjustment difficulties on questionnaires measuring hyperactivity, and emotional distress like excessive worrying, social skills problems, fighting and bullying. The study was published this past year in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry online.

While grandparents have long been considered by family therapists as a help to teens who are having conflict with one or both parents, this study suggests that there are benefits to teens of being close to grandparents even when the teen is well connected with parents. Teens who were securely attached to both parents and grandparents had the least problems. Being close to grandparents didn't seem to help as much if the teens weren't close to their own parents. For teens who indicated a moderate or a strong bond with their parent, the close relationship with a grandparent played an increasingly strong role in decreasing adjustment difficulties.

In my counseling practice, I always encourage people to make the most of the relationship they can have with their grandchildren and other young people. Being a grandparent is one of those interesting roles in life that is highly variable. You can make much of your emotional contribution to the role or none, it's up to your willingness and your adult children's openness to having you involved. If you don't have children or grandchildren, consider reaching out to other teens who may need your stabilizing influence and loving concern.

I can remember my parents' house being a wonderful haven for our children when they were teens; a great place to learn to cook, do art, try gardening, watch classic movies or go for a swim with Gram and Gramps. As it works out, research backs up my observations that grandparents and teenaged grandchildren can provide meaningful connections to each other and memories that can last a lifetime. It's good to be needed.

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