Grandparents and the Science of Social Connection

It’s not everyday that you see a large group of grandparents exploring the Pacific Science Center without kids in tow. On a cold and sunny morning this December, 20 participants were gathering for the quarterly PEPS Grandparent Gathering. As grandparents, they were eager to check out the science center and learn about this great activity for their grandchildren, but even more importantly, these grandparents were here to connect with one another.

Check out PEPS Grandparent Events for 2018!

Each PEPS grandparent event focuses on a different topic that is relevant to participants, and this lunchtime gathering was all about “The Science of Social Connection.” Attendees introduced themselves to the group, and many shared about their grandchildren and their favorite activities around the city. Several grandparents in the room were brand new to the Seattle area, and have moved here to be with their children and grandchildren. Whether you are new to the area and looking to make friends and see the city, or are a longtime Seattle resident, making time to meet other seniors (and friends of all ages) is vitally important!

PEPS Executive Director Jessica Lawmaster shared the latest research on how critical social connections are to us as humans. Social connections not only help us ease into or deal with big transitions in life; they also help us live healthier and longer.

Neuroscience research has shown that, when we are feeling socially isolated, the part of the brain that is activated is the same part that is activated when we experience physical pain. In other words, ‘social pain’ is as real as physical pain and felt the same way. The reverse is true too: if we are socially connected, the part in the brain that is activated is the same part that is activated when we experience pleasure. Additionally, people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer!

Something else for grandparents (and parents) to consider: it is important to build your own sense of community, outside of your identity as a parent or grandparent. Many PEPS events will share some ideas for exploring with your children and grandchildren, but we also hope to help parents and grandparents find enjoyment in “kid-free” activities and focusing on their own interests as well.

Many grandparent participants noted that they have enjoyed attending “meet-ups” around Seattle, such as hiking or attending performances. These activities help building friendships, but they are also learning opportunities – research has shown that learning in groups, including discussion and sharing, can be very powerful! Many enjoy having some alone time on a regular basis, but that shouldn’t stop grandparents from making social connections as well; it’s important have time for both personal reflection and group activities.

Social connection is good for you and good for your whole family! You can learn more about the power of social connection through these resources:

Article: How Social Connection Keeps Seniors Healthy, from Greater Good

Article: Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health, The New York Times (6/12/2017)

Video: The Social Brain, from the Sentis Brain Animation Series.


About the Author

Jessica Brockman is the Development Manager at PEPS. She believes in the importance of building community and is thrilled to be working with the fabulous PEPS team.

Prior to joining PEPS, Jessica led Development activities at the Hearing and Speech Center of Northern California. She is a Social Work student and has a strong interest in applying the principles of social work and community engagement to ethical and sustainable fundraising for nonprofits.

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