Of What Use Are Grandparents?

by Lon Woodbury on September 6, 2013

We hear a lot of talk about how this country is divided.  Red States vs. Blue States, Conservative vs. Liberal, haves vs. have-nots, and the list goes on.  On many levels, there are serious problems with misunderstandings and gross misunderstanding of what the “others” are saying or thinking.  Often it takes the form of demonizing the “others.”  Too often it is not accepted that they have different ideas, but the attitude seems to be they are bad people with bad motives, or are not competent and are pathetic.

On my radio talk show Monday I was reminded of another division in our country, the generation division.  My guest was Dan Blanchard, dan007blanchard@gmail.com, a teacher in a Connecticut Inner-city High School and author of the Granddaddy’s Secrets book series.  He was pointing out how many of his students are totally disrespectful of older people and don’t think they have any value.  This even includes their own grandparents, at least those that still have grandparents.

The tragedy, as my guest pointed out, is that these “elders” have extensive life experiences and have advice based on their life knowledge that young people desperately need.  Advice from them could help young people avoid many costly mistakes that they might otherwise make as they are setting themselves up to learn only from their peers and their own mistakes.  However, this all too common disdainful attitude toward “elders” blinds them to those very people who could be fantastic mentors that could make life easier for the young person’s development into a mature functional adult.

The problem is confounded by the reaction of those grandparents, or elders, who don’t feel valued or appreciated so move on with their lives.  These often are the grandparents who move away to a retirement home, often in a city far away where the weather is better.  Some people criticize them for abandoning their children and grandchildren, but that’s not fair, the problem comes from both generations.  Others, especially those with physical problems but still mentally alert, are often left to their own devices and rarely hear from their families.  Their children often are too busy, and don’t emphasize teaching their children (the grandchildren) the importance of knowing and learning from their grandparents.

Of course there are many exceptions where daily cross-generational interactions are routine, but the changes in our society are that this seems to becoming less common every year.  It seems to more of a rural phenomena with urban areas moving away from extensive contact between the generations.

This growing silence between the generations is a major contributor to growing problems in our society.  As the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  The village seems to be fracturing as the extended family gradually disappears.  I think there is a strong correlation between the two.

We have a youth problem.  Although most young people are growing up fine and in many ways are the best educated and competent generation in our history, there seems to be a increasing minority who are not doing well at all.  Youth gangs seem to be increasing and drug addiction and drug caused emergency room visits are increasing.  Test score averages are flat despite increasing money and effort being poured into schools, and drop-out rates remain too high.  The number of children who are 16 going on 5 emotionally seems to be increasing as well as even adults of 40 acting in immature ways.

This is not a problem governments can solve.  Government solutions are global rather than individual, and all too often political agendas get in the way.  It has to come from thousands of people acting in doing what they think is right, though perhaps if the government adopts wise policies, that can help them.  My guest explained what he personally is trying to do is to help in his own sphere.  As a teacher, he makes every effort to encourage his students to open up relations with older people, and especially their grandparents.  This is something that needs to be duplicated by thousands of teachers, parents and others in the community.  Instead, the number of volunteers in youth oriented organizations is decreasing.

He also is writing a fascinating series of books trying to dramatize how a grandparent (or older adult for that matter) can be there for a young person when needed.  He calls it Granddaddy’s Secrets and each of the three books dramatizes the impact of a grandfather who appears at a time when the young person most needs it.  Each book is oriented to key developmental issues facing a young person in the 10th grade, then in the 11th grade, and then in the 12th grade.

We could be doing a lot of good for our society if more of us take this attitude and decide to spend some of our time personally interacting with young people, rather than spending our time trying to legislate solutions.

So in answer to the question in the heading, “Of What Use Are Grandparents?,” they are vital to a healthy and stable society.  In addition, for those young people lucky enough to still have grandparents, they are an important element in keeping the younger generation on track in growing up as functioning mature adults.


The full interview  titled  ”Of What Use Are Grandparents” with Dan Blanchard can be listened to at LATalkRadio.com.

For a complete archive of Woodbury Reports articles, go to www.strugglingteens.com.

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