Grandmothers could be the answer to adolescent angst

May 12, 2024

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Grandmothers could be the answer to adolescent angst

New research by Finnish scientists has found that investment by maternal grandmothers into grandchildren who have suffered multiple adverse early life experiences (AELE’s) could significantly reduce emotional and behavioral problems in these children.

The research confirmed the finding that children who suffer from cumulative AELEs also have more emotional and behavioral problems in adolescence. It is also evident that supportive caregiving can protect children from early adversity-induced behavioral issues.

What the researchers say: “Our analysis was able to show that grandchildren who experience early stress, be that from strained relationships between their parents, or drug or alcohol use within the family, had increased risk of poor social and emotional adjustment,” the lead author told us.

“The more investment from a maternal grandmother was present, the impact of early stress on adolescent dysfunction became smaller and smaller, but it did not disappear entirely. There is no level of investment that would entirely negate the effects of AELE’s, but investments by maternal grandmothers more than halved the negative effects of AELE’s on children’s emotional and behavioral problems.”

The research suggested that investment by grandfathers, paternal or step-grandmothers in grandchildren who have experienced AELE’s did not carry the same weight.

The study called for further research to examine whether the buffering effect of care from maternal grandmothers on behavioral and emotional problems is strong enough to affect the long-term health and wellbeing outcomes of their grandchildren.

The researchers noted that care of children by grandparents should not be classified as a ‘relic of the past’ but was actually more prevalent in the current economic and social climate.

“Firstly, due to an increase in life expectancy, there is a significantly larger number of children living with healthy grandparents. The average lifespan of the grandparents is increasing, meaning there are more years of shared lifetime together.

“Furthermore, grandparents today are likely to have fewer grandchildren than before, meaning they are able to invest more into each grandchild. With the upswing in the number of working mothers, there is also an increased need for grandparental participation” they said.

“Higher divorce rates and single-parent births means grandparental involvement is often a necessity.”

So, what? Everything old is new again, as the song goes. In hunter-gatherer societies clan elders—particularly women—played a very large role in child rearing and that led to a much higher percentage of well-adjusted adolescents and adults than in modern society.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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