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“We often hear about stepping outside ourselves, but rarely about stepping outside our generation,” said poet and author Criss Jami. How right she is.
Not only is society struggling with ageism, but there are also attitudes and misunderstandings between the generations that could be alleviated with more time spent together. Much can be gained from intergenerational interactions.
For the younger folks…
· Living history lessons. Young people can learn a lot from an older person’s real-life, “living history” perspective on earlier times, issues, events, changes, etc.
· Growing up without ageism. Younger generations can gain respect for older people and grow up with less ageist impressions of them.
· The long view. Valuable lessons can be gleaned from older adults who have been through life’s trials and triumphs. Young people can also gain assurance from a broader perspective and, therefore, experience less stress and anxiety about the future.
· Better students and citizens. Research has shown that youngsters who participate in activities with older adults do better in school, are more involved in community service, and are less at risk for drug or alcohol abuse.
· Perfect playmates. Older people like to have fun, too, and can be wonderful “playmates” for young people. They often have more time to devote to children and teens who may have busy, working or otherwise unavailable parents.
· Additional support. Grandparents or other older adults in a young person’s life provide an extra layer of support, another ear to listen and another shoulder on which to lean. Often, young people find it easier to open up to someone who isn’t a parent or a peer, and a senior can be just the right person.
For the older and wiser…
· A sense of purpose. Sharing stories and wisdom with young people gives older adults a sense of purpose and assurance that their life and experiences matter.
· Reduced loneliness. Time spent with children, teens and young adults can be invigorating and can greatly reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
· Learning the technological ropes. Young people have grown up comfortable with technology and are the best teachers of those for whom modern technological advances are intimidating.
· Everything old is new again. Seeing the world through a child’s eye helps older people experience anew things they felt or discovered long ago.
· Improved cognition. For those with cognitive issues, interactions with youths who are discovering the world for the first time can spark significant memories and connections in the brain.
· Young people are fun. Being an essential part of a younger person’s life is validating, energizing, engaging and just plain fun. Eighty-five percent of elderly respondents in a survey said they enjoy being around young people.
So many of the benefits of intergenerational connections are reciprocal. For both young and old, these relationships strengthen community, preserve history, broaden learning and perspective, reduce depression and anxiety, and so much more.
At GreenFields of Geneva, we realize and embrace the importance of intergenerational relationships. Our residents have ample opportunities to connect with people from younger generations, even – especially! – during these times of social distancing and sheltering in place.
Our well-received pen pal program has put residents in touch with young writers who are happy to exchange letters and cards with them. Both young and older correspondents have learned about one another and eagerly await writing and receiving their next piece of mail.
Families in the nearby Mill Creek neighborhood cheered our residents with Mother’s Day gift bags during the pandemic and look forward to resuming other activities that bring the generations together. Our parent company, Friendship Senior Options, is proud to support outstanding high school students with the Paul J. Schaffhausen Memorial Scholarship.
Everyone could take a note from Criss Jami’s book and “step outside our generation.” We at GreenFields are immensely glad we have.