The Roles of Grandparents in Educating Today's Children

By Reynolds, Glenda Phillips; Wright, James V. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2003 | Go to article overview

The Roles of Grandparents in Educating Today's Children


Reynolds, Glenda Phillips, Wright, James V., Beale, Betty, Journal of Instructional Psychology


The success of children in school depends on the home environment as well as school environment. School administrators, teachers, and counselors interact with the families of children for a variety of reasons, and often the point of contact is a grandparent. The population of grandparents is diverse, ranging in age from 30-110 years and encompassing many different economic levels, ethnic groups, and family constellations.

An understanding of the needs of grandparents in the context of school involvement will help school administrators, teachers, and counselors work more effectively with them to provide the most appropriate education and chances for school success for children living in a variety of home environments. This paper will discuss the roles of grandparents in the lives of their grandchildren and the impact of their relationship on grandparents as well as the children.

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Children are growing up in blended families, families with both parents working, single parent families, multigenerational families, and families headed by grandparents. In this changing atmosphere, grandparents are assuming important roles in the rearing of their grandchildren. From 1980-1993 the number of households headed by grandparents increased 40-44% (Giarrusso and Silverstein, 1996; Pinson-Millburn & Fabian, 1996). Some children are moving back home after divorce or the death of a spouse. Others are returning home because they need to save money. Grandparents may volunteer or be coerced into becoming babysitters for their grandchildren. Others are becoming surrogate parents when their children will not, or cannot, take care of the grandchildren. The purpose of this paper is to discuss grand-parenting in the twenty-first century by examining the impact of grandparents raising grandchildren on the grandparents and grandchildren. An understanding of the issues involved in their relationship can benefit school administrators, teachers and counselors as they interact with grandparents.

Who are the Twenty-First Century Grandparents?

Most of the research relates to grandparents in participatory or care-taking roles, grandparents who are elderly, or grandparent members of groups who use special assistance programs. The most common sources of information have been U.S census statistics, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), or sample studies using convenience samples (Heywood, 1999; Jones & Kennedy, 1996; Pinson-Millburn & Fabian, 1996).

In a time past views of the elderly and views of grandparents were synonymous. Grandparents were seen as physically frail, out of touch with current life styles, and old fashioned. The profile of the average grandparent today is quite different from that former stereotype. Because individuals are becoming grandparents at an earlier age mad living longer, they are likely to be healthy, relatively well off, and have a living spouse (Aldous, 19951. The average grandparent is white, female, and healthy (Roe & Minkler, 1998/991). Most grandparents are married, and if they are single they are more likely to be females (Jones & Kennedy, 1996; Landry, 1999). About 50% are working (Heywood, 1999; Woodworth, 1996).

In 1995 at least 75% of older Americans were grandparents (Giarrusso & Silverstein, 1996) and almost 50 percent of them were great-grandparents, many of whom were raising their great-grandchildren (Woodworth, 1996). However, in 1995 one-half of all U.S. grandparents were less than 60 years of age and one-half of the under 60 group was less that 55 years old (Simon-Rusinowitz & Krach, 1996). These figures tell us that most grandparents are not members of the elderly population. In fact, the estimated grandparent age ranges from 30 to 110, with the median age between 53-57 (Giarrusso & Silverstein, 1996; Heywood, 1999; Jones & Kennedy, 1996). Factors that are often cited in the literature for the growing numbers of grandparents are; the aging of post World War II baby boomers, longer life expectancy, early age of becoming a grandparent, and changes in the family life cycle (Dressel, 1996; Giarrusso & Silverstein, 1996; Longino & Earle, 1996). …

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