Academic journal article Communication Studies

Communication between Grandparents and Grandchildren in Geographically Separated Relationships

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Communication between Grandparents and Grandchildren in Geographically Separated Relationships

Article excerpt

This study examines communication in geographically separated grandparent-grandchild (gp-gc) relationships to better understand the role and impact of communication media on relational quality. Geographic distance affects communication options, most notably face-to-face contact. Although we might assume that frequent face-to-face interaction is highly valued and important to gp-gc relationships (e.g., Brussoni & Boon, 1998; Hodgson, 1992; Kennedy, 1992), it is possible that other forms of contact, such as telephone and email communication, contribute meaningfully to the relationship.

Contemporary grandparents are confronted with the challenge of developing and maintaining relationships with grandchildren. Although these relationships can be complicated by a number of factors, including parental divorce, remarriages, and geographic separation, the relationships tend to be viewed as important to both grandparents and grandchildren (Hagestad, 1985; Hartshorne & Manaster, 1982; Kennedy, 1990; Neugarten & Weinstein, 1964; Szinovacz, 1998a). Researchers have shown interest in the communicative aspects of gp-gc relationships, studying factors like relationship development (Hodgson, 1992; Holladay et al., 1998), communication accommodation (Harwood, 2000b), and use of various media to maintain contact (Harwood, 2000a). The study of media use is an important addition because it helps us understand the different ways in which gp-gc relationships can be maintained. This is especially relevant for geographically separated dyads because opportunities for face-to-face contact, which are assumed to be an important contributor to the relationship, are limited. While some form of contact is required for relationship development and maintenance, there is minimal research on how specific forms of communication contribute to geographically separated relationships. For example, from intergenerational solidarity theory we know that associational solidarity (frequency of contact and types of shared activities) and affectional solidarity (emotional closeness) are important to gp-gc relationships and that contact should lead to greater feelings of closeness (Bengtson & Schrader, 1982). However, we do not understand how different media impact associational solidarity and how those media affect emotional solidarity in geographically dispersed relationships. Researchers typically do not distinguish between specific forms of contact (e.g., telephone, face-to-face, written letters, email, etc.) when quantifying contact and do not collect evaluations of satisfaction with the types of communication. It seems likely that there are qualitative and quantitative differences in the contributions of various media to relational development and maintenance. Theories addressing characteristics of various media may hold promise for understanding perceptions of the strengths and limitations of various modes of contact in geographically separated gp-gc relationships.

Harwood (2000a) drew upon media richness (Daft & Lengel, 1984, 1986) and social presence theory (Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976) to investigate adult grandchildren's perceptions of interaction with grandparents. These theories suggest different media possess different characteristics that make them attractive communication choices for particular tasks. In media richness theory, important characteristics for conveying information stem from the nature of the medium itself and include the availability of immediate feedback, message personalization, availability of multiple cues, and formal versus conversational language. Richer media (e.g., face-to-face) include more of these elements while leaner media (e.g., written memos) do not. Media richness theory has been applied to organizational contexts and focuses on the ability of media to resolve ambiguity and the efficiency of media in accomplishing various organizational tasks, assuming that communicators may choose among media (e. …

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