(Reuters Health) - - Children and teens who spend a lot of time with their grandparents may be less likely than peers who don’t to have negative and stereotypical ideas about the elderly, a recent study suggests.
Researchers in Belgium asked 1,151 youth ranging in age from 7 to 16 years about the time they spent with grandparents as well as their opinions about aging and the elderly. They found that kids who saw their grandparents at least weekly and described these interactions as happy were much less likely to express 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 lead study author Allison Flamion of the University of Liege.
But most of this research was done in university students, not in children and teens, Flamion said by email.
“The children in our study described their relationship with their grandparents very openly, as they perceived it,” Flamion said. “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.”
In questionnaires, the researchers asked the youths about the health of their own grandparents, how often the two generations met and how the young people felt about their relationships with their grandparents.
In general, views on the elderly expressed by the children and adolescents were neutral or positive.
Girls had slightly more positive views than boys, and girls also tended to view their own aging more favorably, the researchers report in Child Development.
Ageist stereotypes appeared to change at various points in childhood, the study also found.
The youngest children, from 7 to 9 years old, expressed the most prejudice and kids from 10 to 12 years old had the most acceptance and tolerance.
Teenagers had more prejudiced notions about aging than pre-teens, but not as much as the youngest children in the study.
Grandparents’ health may also influence how children think about aging, the study suggests.
Young people with grandparents in poor health were more likely to believe negative stereotypes about the elderly than children and teens with healthier grandparents.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how time with grandparents might impact children’s views on aging.
Even so, the current study offers fresh evidence that both the frequency and quality of contact with grandparents matters in shaping how children think about age, said Tara Lineweaver, a psychology researcher at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“The quality of the time children spent with their grandparents mattered most when they also spent more time with their grandparents,” Lineweaver said by email.
“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,” Lineweaver added.
Growing evidence also suggests that contact between grandchildren and grandparents can be good for both, said Dominic Abrams, a psychology researcher at the University of Kent, in the UK.
“More time that is enjoyable and positive really makes the biggest difference. I think there are several ways that this works,” Abrams, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
“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,” Abrams added. “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 grandparents are able to explain and share their experiences.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2CREe9S Child Development, online December 19, 2017.