With diversifying families, increased life expectancy, growing numbers of dual-worker households and higher rates of family breakdown, grandparents are now playing an increasing role in their grandchildren's lives. Despite growing importance there has been little empirical research on adolescent-grandparent relationships, especially from the adolescent perspective and on large-scale samples. The study explores the associations between various aspects of adolescent-grandparent relationship (i.e., importance of, emotional closeness to, and respect for grandparents' views) and the characteristics of the adolescent, the closest grandparent, and parent-grandparent relationship, as well as the interactions between several of these factors.
The following questions are addressed: (a) to what extent do adolescents see their grandparents as important, feel close to them, and respect their views? (b) what are the contributions of the adolescent's characteristics (e.g., age, gender, SES, and ethnicity), the grandparent's characteristics (e.g., gender, lineage, health status, geographic proximity, frequency of contact, and involvement), and parent-grandparent relationship factors (i.e., parent-grandparent relationship quality and parental encouragement) to adolescents' reports on their relationships with the closest grandparent? (c) do the associations between grandparent involvement and grandchild-grandparent relationship vary between adolescents with different characteristics (i.e., those with different parent-grandparent relationship quality, or those with a closer maternal than paternal grandparent)?
The study is based on a nationally representative sample of 1478 students aged 11 to 16 in 70 secondary schools across England and Wales who completed a structured questionnaire. Elder and Conger's (2000) Grandparent-Grandchild Relationship scale was used to assess the emotional closeness of the adolescents with their grandparents. The total responses for each living grandparent were averaged. The grandparent who received the highest score was referred to as the ‘closest grandparent' for the adolescents in this study, and the relationship and characteristics were examined with regard to these grandparents. Hierarchical Linear Multivariate Regression models were estimated to predict the adolescents' perceptions of their relationship with their closest grandparent.
Results supported the position that grandparents are a significant factor in the lives of adolescents. The findings showed that more frequent contact, greater grandparent involvement, and better parent-grandparent relationships predicted adolescents' reports on higher levels of emotional closeness to, importance of, and respect for their closest grandparent's views. The interactions consistently emphasized the role of parents as gatekeepers of intergenerational exchange.
Conclusions and Implications:
In an area of limited research, this study lends further support to the argument that adolescents see their grandparents as important figures outside their immediate family. Grandparents may therefore serve as an important potential resource for supporting adolescents and stabilizing the changing ground of family life so common today.
The study emphasizes the need to examine adolescents' relationships with their grandparents from an ecological perspective, taking into account not only their and their grandparents' characteristics but also their parents' relationship with the grandparents. It supports the argument that parents' ties to their parents matter to the grandparent-grandchild bond even when grandchildren become adolescents or young adults. This should be taken into account when designing interventions aimed at improving intergenerational links.