Over the last century, the number of older adults over the age of 50 has tripled in North America. Men and women from the large Baby-Boomer Generation are retiring. The make-up of our society has been rapidly changing in general, as we open up to globalization and global competition. During this day and age, people travel to and from North America from different parts of the world, bringing a diverse array of cultural and social values. Despite the different cultural backgrounds, what is apparent is the increasing alienation between the older and younger generations.
There are many social barriers that prevent the old and young from forming strong relationships with each other. Children and youth nowadays are raised in nuclear families who do not communicate with each other often due to busy work schedules and stress. As a result, not having extended families around and immediate family members to be supportive make it extremely difficult for young generations to learn how to communicate and relate well with older adults. Another thing with the nuclear family model is that it expects older adults to be self-sufficient. High independence is regarded as a very desirable trait. Having this said, family make-up varies by ethnic group. Negative perception of aging is another barrier to multi-age interaction. In North America, aging is portrayed as ‘bad’ in the media and advertisements.
There are many benefits that can come from multi-age relationships.
Benefits of Intergenerational Relationships to Seniors:
• Give seniors a sense of purpose in life
• Invigorate and energize older adults
• Reduce the likelihood of depression
• Strengthen the immune system in general
• Fill a social need for older adults who do not have family or grandchildren around with them
Benefits of Intergenerational Relationships to Children and Youth:
• Help alleviate any fear that children or youth may have of older adults
• Help children to understand and later accept the process of aging
• Fill a void for children who do not have their own grandparents with them
• Learn new skills, knowledge, and wisdom.
• Strengthen emotional and social intelligence
Although they live in a society that is becoming less intergenerational, parents, guardians, and caregivers can begin to create healthy multi-age relationships. There are many activities that the young and old can do together:
• Playing board games
• Learning skills (e.g. going fishing together)
• Preparing a meal
• Telling jokes and laughing
• Discussing certain topics (e.g. aging and death)
Every intergenerational relationship formed will be unique. It is important to form some goals and expectations around the relationship. Patience is also very much needed, as children or youth might not be ready to bond with older adults. As well, some older adults might not be in the greatest physical conditions to perform some activities. Like any relationship, boundaries need to be set and discussed in order for nourishing interactions to come about. Intergenerational relationships are not unachievable in today's society. As long as people become more aware of how they are relating to other age groups, transformative changes can happen to build stronger communities and families.
Lynda Spence & Heidi Liss Radunovich. “Developing Intergenerational Relationships”. University of Florida.