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Time together helps bind generations

Shannon Hebblethwaite examines how leisure time helps grandparents maintain bonds with their adult grandchildren
February 14, 2011
By Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins

Source: Concordia Journal

Grandparents and grandchildren share more than time when they are together.
Grandparents and grandchildren share more than time when they are together.


A new study has confirmed an old adage: A family that plays together stays together. Shannon Hebblethwaite, a professor in Concordia's Department of Applied Human Sciences, has examined ways grandparents can maintain close ties to their adult grandchildren.

True to the old maxim, recreation emerged as the glue sealing intergenerational bonds. “Shared leisure time allows grandchildren and their grandparents to establish common interests that, in turn, enable them to develop strong intergenerational relationships,” says Hebblethwaite, who completed her investigation with a colleague from Wilfrid Laurier University.

Published in Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, the study builds on previous research that found healthy intergenerational connections help grandparents age better and feel more positively about life.

“The study of intergenerational bonds in adult grandchildren is relatively new,” says Hebblethwaite. “Little attention has been paid to this relationship, yet grandparenting will become increasingly relevant as North America’s population ages.”

Leisure studies is a field that deserves more recognition, continues Hebblethwaite, who arrived at Concordia in 2008. “While leisure studies may appear on the periphery, leisure is vital in the formation of bonds that last from generation to generation.”

Her latest study, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, is among the first to examine a cohort of grandchildren and their grandparents. “Most studies look into parenting, children or seniors. Few have examined how leisure contributes to the bonds between adult grandchildren and grandparents in the same family.”

Sixteen retired or semi-retired grandparents, aged 65 to 89, took part in the investigation, as well as 14 grandchildren aged 18 to 24. Occasions that typically brought generations together included vacations, holiday celebrations, cooking, shopping and gardening.

Grandparents often use such get-togethers as opportunities to teach, mentor and pass on legacies. “They share family histories, personal experiences and life lessons,” says Hebblethwaite. “They pass on family values and traditions and stressed the importance of family cohesion.”

Although finding common interests between generations can pose a challenge – e.g. should Katy Perry or Elvis Presley be the soundtrack for a road trip? – participants stressed how joint activities allowed them to learn from each other. “One young man recalled his initial resistance to baking pies with his grandmother, but he ended up being a great chef,” observes Hebblethwaite.

Exchanging with youth can be a catalyst for discovery among seniors as well. “Some grandparents learned about email, video conferencing or technology through their grandchildren to stay connected with them,” she says. “Sharing of knowledge during such leisure pursuits is what allows grandparents and grandchildren to develop strong bonds.”

Forging strong ties with the matriarch or patriarch of a clan is beneficial for grandchildren, too, and can sharpen their sense of empathy. “After being doted on as kids, adult grandchildren have an opportunity to shift that dynamic and give back to their grandparents,” says Hebblethwaite.

Shannon Hebblethwaite is currently recruiting participants for a tri-generational study on grandchildren, their parents and their grandparents. Participants must be aged 18 to 25, with at least one parent and one grandparent willing to take part. For more details, please contact 848-2424, ext. 2259, or by email.

Related links:
•    Cited study
•    Concordia Department of Applied Human Sciences


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