Intergenerational relationships. Sounds complicated, but it’s actually an important part of aging in a healthful way. What is it, why is it important and how to we go about building them?
What are intergenerational relationships?
Intergenerational relationships (also referred to as cross-generational relationships) are easily explained as relationships, friendships or close family relationships that span generations. This would translate to different ages of people coming together to spend quality time, relating, telling stories and generally becoming close and learning from each other.
Why is it important?
One of the most challenging things for any person to fight, much less a senior, is loneliness. Recent studies show that up to 43% of older Americans suffer from social isolation and it’s been worse in the last year and a half. Loneliness can cause numerous outcomes in people, especially seniors, including:
- Increased mortality
- Higher blood pressure
- Cognitive decline
- Decline in communicative ability
- General physical and mental decline
We also know that close personal relationships helps to offset these risks. The reality is, as friends our own age and perhaps even our spouse pass away, we may find ourselves more isolated, where once there was a circle of friends.
Intergenerational relationships not only help to increase our circle of friends and fight loneliness, but they help us to see the world in different ways, which is good for our brains.
Benefits of intergenerational relationships
Think about the people who are currently in your life and their ages. Are most of them your own age or relatively close? If yes, this means that you need to step up your friend game and begin to include people of all ages. Even those who are 20 years younger have much to offer when it comes to friendship.
Benefits for seniors include:
- Increased joy and “play”
- Increased communication skills
- Increased cognitive ability
- Increased knowledge and life experience
Here are different age groups of people and what mutual benefit you can be to each other in an intergenerational relationship:
Children see the world with fresh eyes, unscathed by experiences they have later in life. They have an unbridled enthusiasm about everything around them and have so much vitality to offer. They also see the world in a much less complex way that can help to remind us that things aren’t always how difficult as they look.
Spending time with kids of all ages can help to see the world differently and to enjoy the little things. They also derive a lot of pleasure from simple things, like playing and coloring, which can be quite enjoyable for most seniors to rediscover. There have been new programs cropping up all around the U.S. in which seniors centers either have children come in to visit or match a senior with a child for some bonding time for both.
There is also much you can offer a child. Perhaps stability and a “grandparent” figure is needed in their lives, a little worldly wisdom. Intergenerational relationships with children also help to build their self esteem and their perspectives on what it is like to grow older (since we all do it).
I don’t know of any generation that hasn’t said, “Kids these days!“. We’ve all said it. They spend too much time on their phones, social media and are posting photos of their food? What is going on? These things are among the reasons why you should spend time with them.
Teenagers have their fingers on the pulse of the world, and yet still need direction and wisdom to help usher them into adulthood. They also have a number of things to teach you about how the younger world communicates (almost like learning another language, which is excellent for the brain!). Most certainly they can help you technologically, perhaps even get you set up on that new tablet or fancy cell phone you’re just not sure about.
You, in turn will share your wealth of information about what it’s like to navigate young adulthood, perhaps entering into a first love or developing a career oriented path.
Young adult and University age
This category is similar to building relationships with teenagers, but they know more about themselves and who they may want to be. Their career paths are more certainly laid out and may be in semi-serious romantic relationships.
Guidance from a “grandparent” figure is highly beneficial to all ages of younger folks. And they are still very adventurous at this age and you may find yourself doing more physically fun things than you would with younger kids.
Intergenerational relationships don’t stop at younger people. Making friends with people who are 20-30 years your junior will still give lots of chance for learning on both parts. You may gain a new understanding of what it’s like to suffer through a divorce or change career paths.
This age group is also likely to enjoy a parent figure, for those who don’t have one (or haven’t had one for a long time). A guiding hand for someone who perhaps is entering “midlife” could certainly be welcome.
How do I make intergenerational friends?
A number of people over the age of 65 have other generations in their lives due to having children and grandchildren, but what about those of us who don’t? Or those of us who aren’t able to spend time with younger members of our families? How do we go about meeting people and making new friends, much less those who are a different age?
Think of the places you go in your life already:
- Grocery store
- Stores in your neighborhood
- Social media (for some of us)
The best way to make friends (of any age) is organically. Set in your mind to start interacting with people around you, you just might find a new friend!
If you reside in senior living or attend a senior community center, ask about programs to meet new friends of all ages. A number of U.S. cities have these and if there isn’t one in your area, perhaps you can suggest one!
Intergenerational relationships bring out the best in all parties involved. If you’d like to read more about why it matters, have a peek at this book.
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