Editorial Staff

Forget about babies raising babies–the problem of grandparents raising babies is just as bad

Grandparents often simply don’t have the energy to properly manage their teenage grandchildren. And, most importantly, times have changed and people are behaving much differently than how people were behaving when your average 60-, 70-, or 80-year-old was coming up. There have always been fast girls and boys who wanted to be players, but, in general, girls were much more fearful of getting a bad reputation, boys didn’t have as much unsupervised access to young women, and crimes against humanity such as disemboweling women were practically unheard of. We don’t live in the same age as our grandparents did, and the grandparents of today are oftentimes entirely unprepared to help their grandchildren navigate the rough waters that many a teenager today has to navigate in poor, high-crime neighborhoods.

For grandparents who grew up in rural or tribal areas and now find themselves raising grandchildren whose generation has a totally different mindset and behavioral norms than their elders were raised with, the grandparents are like fish out of water when it comes to how to properly supervise their young charges.

When 14-year-old Thandeka Mandosela began to plead to go home, proclaiming herself homesick, to the neighbor who was supervising the young girl while Mandosela’s grandmother was away, the girl should have been told to go to bed–she would feel better in a day or two when her Granny came back. Instead, the neighbor took the girl home late at night to an empty house. And Thandeka ended up being lured outside in the wee hours of the morning to become a victim of a heinous assault that took her life.

I have to admit, as soon as I read that Mandosela had begun to plead to go home at 10PM, my first thought was that the girl was trying to get home so that she would be able to meet up with a friend later. I think that my first thought would have been the same first thought as many people who are parents to teenager children–does this child really think I’m going to let her go home to an empty house in the middle of the night just because she is suddenly homesick? Who does she think she’s fooling? But the elderly neighbor who was supervising Mandola didn’t think what I would have thought.

In many parts of Africa, grandparents raising grandchildren has become more common.

This [grandparents raising grandchildren] is a common aspect of family life in many parts of Africa, due in part to parental unemployment, labor or other displacement, illness, or death from HIV or armed conflict. …In July 2102, Clinical Training Director Megan Dolbin-MacNab, along with Adult Development & Aging Associate Professor Shannon Jarrott, led a two-week research and study course to Mafikeng (now Mahikeng), South Africa….Preliminary findings suggest that grandmothers experience a number of challenges related to raising their grandchildren, but that they find strength from their faith, their love for their grandchildren, and social support from other grandmothers and community members.

Here in the US, the reasons for the increase in grandparent led families is much the same, particularly in African American communities. Fifty-one percent of grandparents who had grandkids living with them are white (up from 46 percent in 2000); 24 percent are Black/African American (down from 28 percent in 2000); and 19 percent are Hispanic/Latino (down slightly from 20 percent in 2000).

The number of grandparents who provide primary care for their grandchildren is growing. Nationwide, more than 2.5 million grandparents are taking on the responsibility of raising grandchildren in what the AARP calls “grandfamilies.”
Although grandparents raising grandchildren is not new, the percentage is the largest seen in the past 40 years. “Grandparents are the new safety net and it’s not going to change,” said Judy Pierson, a licensed clinical psychologist from Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Grandparents are faced with the responsibility of raising their grandchildren for a variety of reasons, including parental death, substance abuse, incarceration, mental health issues, military deployment, teen pregnancy, abandonment, abuse or neglect.
The economy has also played a role. The rate of unemployment among workers ages 22 to 34 is double that of 55- to 64-year-olds.

When parents can’t take on the primary role of raising their children it is good when there is a safety net in the form of financially able and willing grandparents who can take on the parental role. But however much grandparents may love and cherish their grandchildren, more than love is needed to prepare teens for the future. Kids need supervision and guidance to help them stay out of trouble. And when a grandparent is unable to provide that supervision and guidance the teens will suffer from that lack of oversight just as much as if it were their biological parents who were present in the home but unable to be fully present.

Make no mistake, no one is responsible for the deaths of Mandeka Mandosela and Anene Booysen except the males who murdered them. But I don’t think the fact that both of these young ladies were being raised by people other than their parents is a coincidence–family breakdown really does make teens, especially teen girls, more vulnerable to the predations of young, undisciplined, and unsupervised boys.
Jamila Akil is a Senior Editor at Beyond Black and White. Follow her on Twitter @jamilaakil

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