The statistics tell us: Europe’s prairies for some years are falling more and more often prey to a new type of animal. The grandparent.
The grandparent, who was a quivering tripod still at the beginning of the last century, is turning into a "different" vigorous biped, very active even if he is over 65 and at a greater advantage, in respect to the younger specimens: he carries on his shoulders the considerable baggage of experience gained in a world that in the last decades has transformed wildly; this made it necessary for him to refine a particular ability to handle the many changes (professional, social, instrumental, etc.), from which he derived appreciable and varied skills.
In parallel, we must keep in mind that thanks to the evolution of medical science and the general improvement of living conditions on the one hand and, on the other, the contraction of the birth rate, the number of "grandparents" – or potentially such – has gradually become more consistent with a trend that grows ever more. Just think that today life expectancy has improved by almost 10 years on average compared to the data collected in 1990. In Italy those over 65 that at the end of the first half of the last century were just over 4,500,000, today exceed 13,500,000 and represent 22% of the Italian population, a percentage destined to increase further up to 35% in the next twenty years.
Another consideration: the family, the basic unit of society, the place par excellence of the formation of a person and the cradle of education, is today in serious difficulty by the fact that young parents, mandatorily distracted by work that is increasingly more absorbing, cannot dedicate themselves to their children if not bloodless and limited carvings of time, at the expense of their educational capacity.
And so the grandparent figure is evolving from someone to be "looked after" to an active protagonist of family life, a sort of first-class baby sitter, irreplaceable for the degree of trust they offer in a world full of pitfalls and for the indisputable skills deriving from the love for their grandsons that guides them, far beyond those of any other qualified caregiver professional.
Moreover, they are repositories of wisdom tested by trials in life and in so far they are experienced advisers for reasonable or unreasonable decision making, good or bad behavior and good or wrong character building; so a real treasure at the disposal of the new generations.
Both Pope Francis and his predecessor, Benedict XVI, have said on many occasions, how important it is for young people that they draw upon talking to their grandparents, and have invited parents to facilitate this exchange.
This is also confirmed in a survey recently conducted in a secondary school in Milan in the results to the question "Among the people who are close to you, which ones give you the most assurance?" the four possible answers gave this unexpected result:
• Parents: 8%
• Teachers: 12%
• Grandparents: 75%
• Other: 5%
Although the figures are not drawn out of a scientific and representative sample, the good mark of grandparents is striking, especially if compared with parents.
All this to say that the figure of the grandfather so far proclaimed – like that of an old man to assist and treat lovingly, good only for the basic functions of babysitting, being the dispenser of candy for the joy of the grandchild’s dentist, or for telling the stories of beautiful timeless fables – is not actually that anymore.
But grandparents have not yet managed to get a new one that better defines their roles and responsibilities. All these premises led us four years ago to set up The Grandparents 2.0 Association, born of a group of old friends who one evening, after having long talked about their respective grandchildren, discussing experiences, difficulties and joys of their role.
The conclusion from that evening was: enough, we must re-evaluate our role, as we are the backbone of the transmission of values between generations and fundamental lever of family strength.
Starting here, our project has focused primarily on cultural initiatives that have become realized in meetings, conferences, and publication of documents aimed at "reactivating" grandparents through a job of training/information on educational issues and on their function as the backbone of the family, witness of origins, and bearer of tradition.
A wide range of news on how much has been done can be found on our website nonniduepuntozero.eu where, in addition to data specifically related to our project, we have collected documents of various origin concerning the "founding themes" that truly interest us.
Another theme that we want to tackle and develop is that related to technology and old age. On the one hand grandparents must absolutely learn how to master computers and smartphones and guide themselves through social networks, in such a way as to be able to talk about this topic with grandchildren and warn them of possible pitfalls and dangers. This has to be done without an uncritical enthusiasm towards means that, if abused, become dangerous. It remains very important to insist that children and young people write by hand, read books, and do not routinely use a computer before the age of nine.
As can be observed from our above argument, thanks to the help of our increasingly aware associates, we are opening up to stimulating initiatives to support our role, with undoubted advantage not only for our grandchildren, who are the primary recipients of our efforts, but also for us, since this involvement keeps us active and helps us participate rather than abandoning ourselves to the park bench.