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SALT LAKE CITY -- A new study praises grandparents for helping kids be kinder and, in some cases, smarter.
Think of your own relationship with your grandparents -- or someone who is like a grandma or grandpa to you -- and the influence they have on your life. There's something to be said for this relationship that's a little different than the one you have with your parents.
Researchers from the BYU School of Family Life set out to find just what it is about this relationship that enriches grandchildren's lives. The study, appearing in the current issue of the Journal of Research on Adolescence, examined the links between grandparent involvement and positive outcomes for grandchildren.
"The bottom line is that grandparents have a positive influence on their grandkids that is distinct from the effect of the parent-child relationship," said lead study author Jeremy Yorgason.
On a typical day, you'll find Kathy Fairbanks working at her store, processing orders, and making sure her staff can fill the orders. Like many others, she puts in a full day's worth of work -- then she goes home to her part-time job: grandma. Fairbanks and her husband Bob watch their grandchildren most days.
"We've already run the whole child-rearing program," Fairbanks said. "Maybe we're not quite as tough on (our grandkids) because we know that some things don't matter quite as much as other things do."
It's that experience and the investment in spending time with grandkids that researchers say has a tremendous influence on kids.
"When they're connecting with their grandchildren, they're teaching them things, they're helping them in ways that show up even a year later," said Yorgason.
For the study, Yorgason and a team of researchers interviewed more than 400 kids ages 10 to 14. After one year, they found the kids were kinder to others outside their immediate family and friends - and, in some cases, smarter.
As Yorgason explains, "Grandparents are modeling pro-social behaviors, and their grandchildren pick up on that."
Grandparent involvement can come in many forms. None of the children involved in the study lived in the same home as their grandparents, but many parents had received at least some level of financial help from the grandparents. For those kids with single parents, that financial help has its own measurable benefit as well.
"Grandparents sometimes act as the National Guard and help out in a crisis," Yorgason said. "The kids in single-parent homes may not even know about the financial help, but it's related to them being more engaged in school."
For Kathy and Bob Fairbanks, they love knowing that their involvement will leave a lifelong impression on their grandchildren. "The founding that we give them, the strength we give them to deal with daily life and knowing that there's somebody they can go back to that they can trust" are what makes the bond so valuable.
While Yorgason encourages grandparents to be more involved in their grandchildren's lives, he says that if kids don't have grandparents of their own, families should try to find a similar adult figure to spend quality time with.