Grandparents Nowadays Are Not What They Used to Be 50 Years Ago

Family life is always evolving. As each new generation learns the ropes of childrearing, and new cultural and technological developments change the landscape of daily life, the role grandparents play changes, too. Here are some important ways that being a grandparent now is different than it was half a century ago.

Grandparents Go Digital

One significant change from 50 years ago is the role that technology plays in day-to-day life, and especially in how we connect emotionally.

In 1970, there were no cell phones. There was no Internet. The closest thing to “social media” might be wedding or baby announcements in a real, paper-and-ink newspaper. The idea of broadcasting pictures of what you ate for lunch or sharing baby pictures with “followers” around the world was unimaginable.

As today’s parents raise their kids, there are brand-new questions about how to balance a child’s right to privacy with the Internet sharing culture most people scroll through every day. Drawing a line between public and private life isn’t a concern just for the rich and famous anymore. Anyone with an Instagram account needs to figure out their own boundaries.

What this all means is that digital life can be good or bad, depending how you use it. Sharing photos and video calls can be a great way to keep in touch with grandparents who live far away. You might also need to have clear, open conversations about when and how to share baby pictures.

Grandparents and LGBTQ

An overwhelming majority, 88% of grandparents today are accepting of LGBTQ grandchildren, according to an AARP survey. The last 50 years have seen a radical shift in cultural attitudes and legislative movements about sexuality. Same-sex marriage is legal throughout the United States. While there’s still important ground to cover, there are many more protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity than there were 50 years ago.

The same AARP survey found that only 37% of grandparents agreed that gender was nonbinary. If the much more accepting views on sexuality are an indicator, though, the next few decades may see increased openness to trans and nonbinary gender identity, as well.

What this means right now is that grandparents may feel open and progressive in some areas, but have hesitations and lots of questions about others. As a parent, your first responsibility is to love and support your child. After that, you can take the next step of educating grandparents if they’re not sure how your child’s identity “works.” There’s a good chance that wider cultural acceptance will be reflected in grandparents’ views, too.

Grandparents Don’t Agree with Modern Discipline

One of the major areas that causes friction between generations is parenting style, and this seems to hold true today. In particular, strictness and discipline seem to be hot-button issues for grandparents now.

The AARP found that more than 75% of grandparents think modern parents are too lax with their kids, more than half support spanking (as compared to only 16% of modern parents who still admit to spanking their kids), and nearly 75% disagree that parenting today is better than it was.

The tide only turned against corporal punishment fairly recently. Less than 10 years ago, more than 70% of Millennials said a hard spanking was sometimes an appropriate punishment for a child. As more research comes out showing that spanking is ineffective and even harmful in the long-term, more parents may be turning away from this form of discipline. Getting grandparents on the same page may be a challenge.

Your best bet as a parent is to continue using nonviolent methods of discipline, and don’t tolerate grandparents spanking when they watch your kids. You may need to teach your preferred methods so grandparents can still see your child’s good behavior without harsh discipline.

Grandparents aren’t what they used to be, and in many cases that’s something to celebrate! Responding to new cultural challenges and tech opportunities is a good thing. Even if grandparents are changing, one thing stays the same: They love and cherish their grandkids.

Jessica Sillers
Jessica Sillers is a parenting and finance writer whose work has been featured in Pregnancy & Newborn, Headspace, and more. As a new mom herself, she’s passionate about helping other parents find the community and support they need. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, reading, and hiking.

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