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Grandparents Influence Behavior More Than Parents?

Have you ever stopped and looked at your life, wondering how you got to where you are today? Do you think of your grandparents having a role in your development and your success as a parent, as a boss, as a worker or as a spouse? If so, you’re not alone. A study released in November from the Brigham Young University Department of Family Life, located in Provo, Utah, examined the role grandparents play in the development of children.

“Grandparents Matter More Than Parents” led by Jeremy Yorgason and Laura Padilla-Walker, the study entitled Nonresidential Grandparents’ Emotional and Financial Involvement in Relation to Early Adolescent Grandchild Outcomes, examined the social behaviors and engagement of fifth grade over a period of one year. A total of 408 students were looked at for both parts of the study. The study, conducted via questionnaire to the students, used four different measures in the study. The questionnaire looked at grandparents’ involvement, parent-child attachment, pro-social behavior, and school engagement.

Students were given the questionnaire and told to answer the best choice to the questions. The questionnaires were scored by each of the four points using a response-point assignment, similar to 1 for (strongly disagree) to 5 for (strongly agree). The results showed that the amount of time spent with a grandparent improved the responses in the behavior and engagement categories.

More than parental closeness, the time spent with grandparents showed a stronger positive response towards pro-social behavior and school engagement. This connection was similarly strong, regardless of income, one parent or two parent homes.

Grandparents: Does Location Matter?

When Decoded Science asked Dr. Yorgason about the distance between grandparent and grandchild, and how if factored into the results, he replied:

“Distance is an important factor to consider, as it is one of the main predictors of grandparent involvement. We couldn’t control for distance in the study, but have this data from later waves in the study, so we plan to look at this.”

Since BYU is a Mormon university, Decoded Science asked whether this study applied to both heterosexual and same-sex couples. Dr. Yorgason stated that the sexual orientation of the parents could play a role in the correlation, but the data from this study was less than 3 percent. It was not enough to make any determinations. There are no plans to address only same-sex couples at this time.

Dr. Yorgason did indicate that future studies are geared towards determining if any one grandparent is more influential. This study is in progress, with results to come in the future.

Surprises in the Study

Decoded Science asked Dr. Yorgason about potential surprises in the results of this study. His response:

“Two things about the study surprised me. Although not part of the published paper, we looked at whether grandparent involvement was linked to other common child outcomes, including acting out behavior and emotional distress. We did not find any significant effects of grandparent involvement on these other outcomes. Past research has. However, our study is one of the few to control for parent/child attachment, so it may be that parental influence is what drives these other outcomes.

The second surprise came in the studies’ retention rate. Over 90 percent of the original sample has participated in the later waves of data collection with our project. Even with our most current data collection (The 5th wave – five years after the beginning of the study) we have over 90 percent retention from the original sample. This is unusual in a study of this size.”

With more study releases to come, this could be just the beginning of a better understanding of the roles grandparents play in our lives, as we move from childhood into adulthood.

Shannon Webster holds a MA in Human Resource Management, and a BA in Sociology with a minor in Psychology. She enjoys examining the ways in which people can be influenced by others, and the impact of this influence on society as a whole.


Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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