Grandmothers could be the answer to adolescent angst

| May 13, 2024

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

The research, conducted by Finland’s University of Turku in conjunction with Edith Cowan University (ECU), confirmed the finding that children who suffer from cumulative AELEs also have more emotional and behavioural problems in adolescence.

It is also evident that supportive caregiving can protect children from early adversity-induced behavioural issues.

“Our analysis was able to show that grandchildren who experience early stress, be that from strained relationships between the parents, or drug or alcohol use within the family, it increased their risk of poor social and emotional adjustment,” said ECU Senior Lecturer Dr David Coall.

“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 behavioural problems.”

The research suggested that investments by other grandparents in grandchildren who have experienced AELE’s did not carry the same weight.

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

Coall noted that investments by grandparents into grandchildren should not be classified as a ‘relic of the past’ but was indeed more prevalent in the current economic and social climates.

“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 investment,” Coall said.

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

Coall noted that with the advance in technology, grandchildren were still able to build a strong relationship with grandparents despite note being in close proximity, giving hope to parents living overseas.

“This is a very different time, with many families now spread around the world. The onset of COVID further separated people for long periods of time. But through modern technology, it is still possible to have a relationship with and investment from grandparents.”

A copy of the research can be found here.

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