Intergenerational Connections

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Many older adults today are more educated, healthier, and more active and able than elders of past generations. They can be a tremendous resource. With the aging of America including all the baby boomers, there are a lot of seniors with a lot to offer. With their careers winding down and basic needs met, many seniors are looking to contribute to the public good, and there are plenty of opportunities.

With the changing dynamic of the family structure and new economic realities (both parents working and/or single-parent homes), parents are often stressed, strained, and simply not available for their children. As a result, many children struggle both academically and emotionally. They could benefit from tutoring and mentoring—which elders can provide in the following ways:

  • Research shows that children need as many as 4-6 involved and caring adults in their lives to fully develop emotionally and socially.

  • Older adult mentors can tutor children in academics and other skills as well as building a young person’s self-esteem, confidence, and emotional stability. This also gives the senior an important sense of achievement and self-worth.

  • Old and young people can also just be friends, sharing insights that both bring value to the conversation. What a wonderful way for elders to pass on a collection of life memories to children!

  • One study showed that when a child is mentored by an adult, they are: 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52% less likely to skip school.

Conversely, young people can also give back to seniors, particularly those who are isolated and lonely. Studies show that when elders who are isolated experience regular visits from young people, their loneliness seems to ease, and their overall health seems invigorated. It can pull them out of isolation and loneliness, giving them a “purpose” in life again.

Children can also help older people, particularly those facing health challenges or other losses, see the world anew again, through a child's eyes. In addition to companionship, younger generations can also help seniors with practical tasks and activities.

There is mounting evidence of the importance of socialization for seniors, and that cross-generational socialization is good for brain health and that it may lower the risk of dementia and other chronic diseases in seniors. It may slow the aging process and promote better health in our senior years. It can promote healthy longevity by increasing physical, mental, and creative activity.

Active, involved older adults with close intergenerational connections consistently report much less depression, better physical health, and higher degrees of life satisfaction. They tend to be happier with their present life and more hopeful for the future. Public and private sectors around the country, are creating intergenerational programs, helping kids get the attention they need, and helping elders find purpose and connection. These programs are building bridges and closing gaps, improving the social bonds and solidarity between young and old.

What are your thoughts on intergenerational connections? Can you remember a life lesson taught by a grandparent or older adult as a kid? Would you be involved in such a program?

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