By Hugh Finlay
Reuters reports that in Belgium researchers asked over 1,100 youths ranging from 7 to 16 years old, about time they spend with grandparents, and also their opinions about getting old, and the elderly. They discovered that kids who saw their grandparents weekly, and felt that their relations with their grandparents were happy, were a lot less likely to have ageist views.
“Previous research had suggested that frequency of contacts with the elderly (time spent together) had no effect on children’s attitudes towards older people, whereas a high quality of contact positively influenced these attitudes,” said Alison Flamion, the lead author of the study at the University of Liege.
Said Flamion “The children in our study described their relationship with their grandparents very openly, as they perceived it. We were somewhat surprised to find such a strong correlation between the children’s perception of grandparents’ contacts and the ageist stereotypes turning up in the questionnaires.”
Using questionnaires, researchers asked young people about their grandparents’ health, when the two generations would meet, and what the youth felt about their relationships with their grandparents.
Generally, the young people had positive or neutral attitudes to the elderly.
Girls’ attitude to the elderly was more positive, than the attitude of the boys. Also girls had a more positive attitude towards getting old, the Child Development researchers found.
How young people viewed the old changed depended on what point in childhood they were, the researchers found.
The younger kids, aged 7 to 9 years, had more prejudice. Kids aged 10 to 12 years were more accepting and tolerant.
Teenagers were more prejudiced about aging than younger kids, but were not as prejudiced as the youngest kids.
The health of the grandparents can also have an influence how kids view aging, the researchers found.
If young people had grandparents who were in poor health, their grandchildren were more inclined to have negative views about old people, compared with teens and kids who had healthier grandparents.
The researchers say that the study was not a controlled experiment. And the study was not designed to show if time spent with grandparents might have an effect on children’s views of aging.
Nevertheless, the study provides more evidence that the quality and frequency of social contact with grandparents, has an effect on shaping how kids think about the elderly, said Tara Lineweaver, a psychology researcher from Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana, who was not involved with the study.
“The quality of the time children spent with their grandparents mattered most when they also spent more time with their grandparents,” said Lineweaver.
“What I found most valuable and most surprising about their results is that the influence of quality interactions with grandparents was greatest in middle childhood (ages 10-12), when attitudes are already most positive, suggesting that good relationships with grandparents may help explain the positive beliefs about aging that typically accompany this stage of development.” added Lineweaver.
There is growing evidence suggesting that social contact between grandparents and grandchildren can be beneficial for both of them, commented Dominic Abrams, a psychology researcher from the University of Kent, UK.
“More time that is enjoyable and positive really makes the biggest difference. I think there are several ways that this works,” said Abrams.
“From a strong positive relationship they are more likely to learn things about older people that they might not otherwise have discovered such as their strengths, abilities, breadth of experience, and that they have a range of emotions and knowledge,” added Abrams. “Second, they may meet other older people whilst with their grandparents, giving them greater awareness of other older people in general and making ageing and oldness less strange and perhaps less frightening to the extent that