Saturday, 31 March 2012

Grandparents and Other Relatives – Adolescent Development in Interpersonal and Societal Context

There has been surprisingly little research on adolescents’ relationships with relatives other than parents or siblings. In their primarily European American middle-class sample, experts found that relationships with grandparents become more distant (both less supportive and less conflictive) as adolescents grow older, but
few studies have followed up this finding with more detailed analyses. Furthermore, the available evidence suggests that relationships with grandparents and other relatives may vary in ethnic minority families. Multi-generational families are more common among African American than among European American families, but significant increases in the number of African American children orphaned or abandoned due to parental AIDS/HIV, incarceration, and drug use has led to increasing numbers of African American grandparents assuming primary childrearing responsibilities for their grandchildren. The implications of “off-time” parenting for grand-parents have been studied, but the implications of being raised by grandparents for adolescent development have not. Furthermore, as divorce and remarriage become increasingly normative in American society, adolescents’ relationships with multiple sets of grandparents and step grandparents warrant attention.

More generally, the available research indicates that ethnic minorities, especially African American and Latino families in the United States, have social networks that are more cohesive and include a larger proportion of extended family members than do European American families, and that these kin networks are important sources of emotional and instrumental support. Despite variability in the importance, extensiveness, fluidity, and amount of contact with kin networks, family influences on adolescent development have been limited primarily to studies of nuclear rather than extended families. More research on the distinct relationships adolescents have with different relatives and their influence on adolescent development is warranted.

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