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The health benefits of having — and being — grandparents

By The Health News Team | July 18, 2023
The health benefits of grandparents

The results are in: Grandparents help children live healthier lives. And the bonus benefit: The positive health effects are reciprocal.

“When children spend time with their grandparents, it helps them appreciate their place in their family and their role in a bigger legacy,” says Dr. Michael Martin, a pediatric and internal medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “It also benefits grandparents to know that they are passing along their wisdom, their knowledge and their insights to another generation.”

Benefits to grandchildren

Grandparents are notorious for spoiling their grandkids. And now, they have an excuse. Studies show decreased depression in kids who are closely bonded to their grandparents. Here’s why:

  • Grandparents have the opportunity to choose.

    Grandparents are at the stage in their lives where they are not primary caregivers and they can choose how involved they want to get. When people do things out of choice and not of need, their approach, attitudes and interactions are much more positive, leading to better outcomes.

  • Kids and adolescents tend to be easier on their grandparents.

    Grandparents have a special bond with their grandkids — one that is entirely different from the parent-child relationship. Children, particularly adolescents, are somewhat reluctant to show affection publicly to their own parents because they deem them “not cool” or are afraid of judgement from peers. Grandparents rarely carry the same stigma.

  • Grandparents can be an impartial third party.

    Many kids are more comfortable going to their grandparents for advice because their bond is less judgmental and comes with less fear of punishment. Many adults find that grandparents can offer a voice of reason when conflict arises between kids and their parents, as there’s often less frustration and a bigger sense of listening and patience.

  • Grandparents have a wealth of experience.

    From medical emergencies to toddler negotiations, grandparents have been there. They have a general idea of what works and what doesn’t and can separate “needs” from “wants.” When parents struggle with their children, grandparents can help them focus on the destination, while enjoying the (sometimes bumpy) journey.

Benefits to grandparents

Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from a grandparent’s time and devotion. Studies show that seniors who babysit live longer and experience less depression. Being a grandparent can improve a senior’s health for these reasons:

  • Kids keep grandparents physically and mentally active.

    Whether they’re walking to the park or explaining long division, interacting with kids can help an older adult stay physically active and mentally sharp. While overdoing it can cause fatigue or stress, finding a good balance in caregiving can make a big difference in a grandparent’s overall health.

  • Grandparents can live vicariously through their children.

    The role of grandparent can bring a new sense of purpose, pride and joy. Being involved in a grandchild’s growth and development brings an emotional satisfaction that is unique from that of a parent.

  • Kids are genuinely interested in helping their grandparents.

    When grandparents need help or assistance, many grandchildren jump at the chance. Because they are “asked” and not “ordered,” and are appreciated for their actions, kids are more willing to be by their grandparents’ side.

  • Grandparents have a revered role in the family.

    In most cultures, grandparents have a special position of reverence, respect, trust and affection. They are often the heart of their families and can take pride in the admiration and achievements of their offspring. While aging comes with its challenges, seeing the growth of new generations can be the happiest time in a person’s life.

Grandparenting from afar

But if Grandma lives far away, does the bond suffer? In short, it doesn’t have to. Face-to-face interactive media, such as FaceTime, can bring families together on a regular basis. And while the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is careful not to recommend too much screen time for children, device interaction with grandparents is a strong exception.

“It’s great to be together in person — to hug, to laugh together, to break bread together,” says Dr. Martin. “But when we can’t be together in person, technology can keep us connected. Seeing each other’s faces while we talk shrinks the distance between us and still offers good connection.”

Learn more about seniors and aging and children’s health; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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