Listen to Your Parents! (It’s Good for Them)

Members of the newly grey-haired set benefit from giving advice.

Posted Mar 09, 2016

Rebecca Coffey
Source: Rebecca Coffey

After rejecting their parents’ values wholeheartedly as teenagers, many young adults rediscover the joys of family bonds and once again see sense in their parents’ points of view. Who knows? There may even be a social benefit to showing off a parent’s smarts—at least in abstentia. Sprinkling a conversation with "Mom always said ..." or “Dad had a way with …” might  help an inexperienced twenty-something sound like a regular fount of down-home wisdom.

But as much as young adults may grudgingly admire their progenitors’ shrewdness, they probably hear only a small handful of the advice their parents still have to give. Because ... well, times have changed since the ‘rents grew up. And who sees their parents every day after moving out of the house? And what could Mom or Dad possibly know that would be relative to the pressures of life today? I mean, really.

If that is, indeed, the state of affairs, it’s a sad one. Because, according to a new study published in the March issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, people in their sixties who find opportunities to give useful advice experience their own lives as more meaningful. A nationally sampled American survey of 2,583 adults found that 90 percent of people in their sixties who reported having given advice in the previous year to friends, family, neighbors, or strangers also reported considering their lives meaningful. And those who reported not having given any advice? Only 60 percent felt their lives were meaningful.

Fascinated by the apparent relationship between life satisfaction and advice-giving, study co-author Markus Schafer suggests that, “Many people in their sixties have just retired. They may have a newly empty nest and be in the midst of moving emotionally from workplace and family obligations to what will be the occupations and concerns of later years. For the first time in decades, they may feel irrelevant. Giving advice may help them feel connected.”

Surprisingly, perhaps, the researchers’ analysis of the survey data also showed that the life-satisfaction benefit of giving advice seems to fall off once people reach age 70. By way explanation Schafer suggests that, by the time people reach their seventies, most have already navigated the change from work and family obligations, and so have found new ways to connect socially and feel vital. In their seventies, eighties, and nineties they may be physically or cognitively diminished. But, hey. They’ve learned to make do.

Shuffleboard, anyone?

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Markus H. Schafer and Laura Upenieks, "The Age-Graded Nature of Advice: Distributional Patterns and Implications for Life Meaning." 

Copyright Rebecca Coffey
Source: Copyright Rebecca Coffey

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PsychologyToday.com columnist Rebecca Coffey is a science journalist, humorist, and novelist. Her recent novel is the fact-based Hysterical: Anna Freud's Story, which the American Library Association named a 2015 Over the Rainbow book.

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