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Planning Retirement Online

Beyond the Headlines

February 2014


By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

Each month our resident writer and commentator Jeanne Davis goes behind recent news stories to comment on various ideas and subjects that have special resonance for our age group.

Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy this addition every month



Elderly humans played a crucial role in evolution, fostering rapid cultural development of the species, say scientists

Thirty thousand years ago, the human species had a senior moment.  Numbers of adults reaching the age of 30 began to rise dramatically.  Very soon after, there was a significant increase in artistic expression, food production and the creation of complex tools and weapons.

The surge in numbers of elderly humans triggered a cultural explosion that established our species –Homo sapiens – as masters of the planetAccording to Professor Rachel Caspari of Central Michigan University, living to an older age had profound effects on the population sizes, socials interactions and genetics of early modern groups and may explain why they were more successful than other archaic humans such as the Neanderthals.

Kristen Hawkes of the University of Utah, has proposed that grandmothers must have played an important role in the ascent of Homo sapiens. When our apeman ancestors were evolving in Africa, females normally died at child-bearing age.  Then an occasional female lived a little longer, and would have helped her daughters, when they had their own children, to dig and forage for food. “Good foraging grannies mean healthy kids,” she says. 

The Rise of Senior Citizens

These grandmother–mother pairings thrived, so their genes for longevity would have been passed on.  In this way, the slow rise of the senior citizens began.

As evolution proceeded, numbers of those aged 30 or over did increase, but they were still relatively modest.  The striking change only came when researchers looked at Homo sapiens  - who evolved in Africa and migrated to Europe around 40,000 years ago –and compared them with their predecessors in Europe, the Neanderthals.  Many more Homo sapiens young adults had reached 30 or older than the Neanderthals.

The effect was profound.  It wasn’t just granny power on its own that did it.  Grandfathers played a critical role.  There were improvements in food gathering, and important skills such as tool-making.

Fast Forward

I would like to fast forward to the grandparent - grandchild relationship of today.  How different would it be? One difference that occurs to me would be the numbers of teenage grandchildren.  Would these early elders have had to deal with teenagers, would they have lived long enough to see the grandchildren into their teens?

I asked a group of grandparents what advice they would have given to these early elders if confronted with teenagers.

One grandmother said, “First of all, there is a difference in the way you relate to the young ones versus the teenagers.  When young they are developing their motor skills and concepts that are black and white. The teens, though, are developing intellectual skills and nuanced concepts.”

Listen With Respect to Teenagers

A grandfather said, “You have to be listening with respect to teenagers. You can introduce alternatives; make a case for presenting alternatives, by using examples.  Look at it in the light of your experience at the same time asking about theirs, and be non judgemental.  Don’t be afraid of giving a personal opinion, but don’t say this is the only right way.”

“With toddlers’ behaviour you tend to give a firm lead,” a Granny put in. “There are no ifs ands or buts about hitting another child.  It is a definite no.  As to concepts, to toddlers they are black and white. Language facility is different. Small children may not be able to say why something is nasty, it just is.  Teens can explain.”

There is another difference, the group agreed. Contact is usually intermittent.  You don’t see the teenagers as often as you do the little ones, which may be on a more regular schedule especially if you have taken on child care.

 Relationships with teens may have to be re-established; a bond of companionship re-established.  This may take time. There is a teen age phase when they don’t communicate except to grunt or mutter.  Don’t force them.  Let it go for neither of you will enjoy each other if you don’t.

Bite Your Tongue

When you are all sitting around the dining table or around the hearth, there is a universal rule.  Whether it is about the toddlers or the teens, don’t override the parents' ideas of discipline or disagree with their opinions of permissible behaviour.
Away from the table or outside the house, you may allude to alternatives.  But beware. Bite your tongue. After all, good grandparents make happy families


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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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