Everyone knows that grandparents have a special, unique bond with their grandchildren. In certain situations, this bond is sometimes deeper than the parent-child bond. But did you know that studies show being close with your grandparents – and vice versa – has positive effects on mental health?
Being Close to the Grands Means Better Adolescent Wellbeing
In 2009, a study published in The Journal of Family Psychology found that adolescent grandchildren who felt close to their grandparents had fewer negative mental health symptoms than those who did not feel close to their grandparents. Among more than 1500 adolescents ages 11-16, “greater grandparent involvement was associated with fewer emotional problems.” This was especially the case when the adolescents came from single-parent families or stepfamilies.
Even when the parent struggles with depression, a positive tie with grandparents can protect against similar depression in the child. One 2006 study analyzed data from more than 2000 grandchildren and their mothers. The researchers found that a close relationship with grandparents has the power to “break the chain” of depression transmission from mother to child.
Unfortunately, though, the opposite was also found to be true. When a teenager’s mother had depression, the study authors found a strong correlation between poor grandparent-grandchild connection and subsequent depressive symptoms in the grandchild.
Though correlation doesn’t prove causation, the takeaway message is straightforward. A teen whose mother has depression would do well to maintain a strong relationship with his or her grandparents. And vice-versa. A grandparent whose adult child has depression should put in great effort to offer emotional support to their grandchild.
Grandparents Also Have Better Mental Health
A close grandparent-grandchild bond has a positive impact on the older generation as well. For example, Reitzes & Mutran, 2004 found that the more frequently grandparents and young grandchildren had contact, the more satisfied grandparents were. And those who were competent and happy in their role as grandparents had better emotional wellbeing.
Another recent study published in The Gerontologist found that the more grandparents and grandchildren exchange emotional support between each other, the greater their mental health – for both. Grandparents who consistently give positive support and material gifts to their grandchildren had better psychological health than those who didn’t. Both parties had fewer symptoms of depression when they felt a strong emotional tie with each other.
A Message for Grandparents and Grandchildren
All these studies drive home one clear message: grandparents and grandchildren can be valuable resources to each other, especially when it comes to protecting each other’s mental health.
Therefore, if you’re a grandma or grandpa, keep calling your grandchildren and inviting them to visit. Feel free to bring them those thoughtful trinkets and take them on fun trips. Give them hugs and kisses and emotional support. It’s good for both of you.
And parents: take your children to see their grandparents. Encourage them to stay in touch and talk as often as possible. Don’t minimize the positive influence your own parents can have on your teens. Data shows the more they communicate, the better off everyone is.