New European research has found that promoting a close relationship between children and grandparents could be one way of preventing ageism.
Carried out by researchers at the University of Liege in Belgium, the new study set out to identify the factors underlying ageism, the prejudice and discrimination against older people, which occurs frequently in young adults and can even be seen in children as young as 3.
The researchers recruited 1,151 children and teenagers ages 7 to 16 for the study and asked the young participants about their thoughts on growing old and the elderly.
Information was also collected about the health of the participants’ grandparents, how often they met with their grandparents, and how they felt about their relationships with their grandparents.
The team found that in general, the views on the elderly expressed by the children and teens were either neutral or positive, however girls had slightly more positive views than boys, including feeling more positive about their own aging.
The age of the participants also played a role in their views, with 7- to 9-year-olds expressing the most prejudice towards older people and 10- to 12-year-olds expressing the least.
However, the team found that prejudice seemed to reappear once the participants had reached their teenage years, with 13- to 16-year-olds also showing high levels of ageism.
Although their grandparents’ health also influenced the youths’ views on ageism, with those with grandparents in poor health more likely to hold ageist views, the most important influencing factor was the quality of their contact with their grandparents.
Those who described their contact with grandparents as good or very good had more favorable feelings toward the elderly than those who described the contact less positively.
Although it mattered less than the quality of the relationship, how often the participants spent time with their grandparents also reduced negative views on aging, with 10- to 12-year-olds who saw their grandparents at least once a week holding the most favorable views toward the elderly.
“For many children, grandparents are their first and most frequent contact with older adults,” noted co-author Stephane Adam. “Our findings point to the potential of grandparents to be part of intergenerational programs designed to prevent ageism. Next, we hope to explore what makes contacts with grandparents more rewarding for their grandchildren as well as the effects on children of living with or caring for their grandparents.”
The results can be found published online in the journal Child Development. JB