Where Youth Meets Experience – Intergenerational Programs Are Taking Off

Bridging the Generation Gap

Anthropologist Margaret Mead once stated that “everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being.” Those words express the idea that fullness of life comes from experiencing it from every direction. And we couldn’t agree more.

Building intergenerational relationships through official programs or just within one’s own family circle can have an amazing life impact.

Over the last several decades, intergenerational programs that follow this idea of bringing youth and the elderly together have popped up all over the United States, giving people on both sides of the age spectrum the chance to discover and learn about other, very different, generations.

Building intergenerational relationships through official programs or just within one’s own family circle can have an amazing life impact. With large numbers of baby boomers aging but living longer than ever before and a growing millennial group that’s often unsure of an unpredictable world, there’s a chance to bridge the “generation gap” for mutual benefit.

Intergenerational programs allow younger and older adults the chance to learn about each other’s generation.

Types of Intergenerational Programs

Some intergenerational programs are based at youth or elderly residential centers. A program in Escondido, California, is home to both foster kids and older adults. By adding in the facility’s staff, the result is one big unified “family” that learns and shares together. The older adults serve as mentors to the youth, teaching them valuable life skills that will help them when they transition out of the foster system.

A Boston-based program has senior adults, high schoolers and children building relationships and working side by side on service-learning activities that focus on conservation practices and environmental issues.

A program in Philadelphia matches middle school kids with older adult mentors to perform community service work. A primary goal of the program is to prevent substance abuse and other problems common to middle schoolers.

And, of course, there are many programs where seniors volunteer to help kids in the classroom and in school-related programs.

Children with senior mentors can develop higher self-esteem and better social and emotional skills.

While components vary among these and the scores of other similar programs, one thing they all share is the fostering of practical relationships between younger and older people, both of whom may benefit in many ways.

How Intergenerational Relationships May Benefit Young People

  • By moving out of their “comfort zone” of friends and connecting with grandparents and other older adults, children gain a new perspective on their history, their roots and their place in the world.
  • Senior mentors are able to help children and teens with homework and increase their academic proficiency.
  • Children with senior mentors can develop higher self-esteem and better social and emotional skills.
  • Perhaps most important of all, young people who socialize with older adults open themselves up to a powerful source of wisdom and understanding that isn’t available to them in their peer groups.

How Intergenerational Relationships May Benefit Older People

  • Sometimes people in their “golden years” feel left out and underappreciated. By building active relationships in which they can be of service to their grandchildren or other youth, older adults increase their sense of self-worth and personal value.
  • Older people who are connected with children and teens report better physical health, fewer incidents of depression and overall greater life satisfaction.
  • Relationships with the younger generation give older people an opportunity to learn about the technology that drives our world. Everybody knows that if you want to learn how a computer or mobile device works, just ask a kid.
  • It’s not uncommon for older adults to become inspired by the drive and curiosity that comes from their less seasoned younger companions. This can help older people discover the “spark of youth” they still have within themselves.

There are few satisfactions greater than knowing you’re sharing your legacy with the youth of the world. Like children, the elderly need to have a voice and someone to listen to it.

When people become engaged in a worthy pursuit, the body, mind and spirit may be affected in many positive ways.

Becoming familiar with the technology that drives our world is a great way for older adults to connect with the younger generation.

If you’re an older adult reading this, maybe you’ll be inspired to become more active in the lives of your grandchildren or other young people in your circles. You have so much to give, and sharing your wisdom, knowledge and experiences with youthful minds can benefit you—and them—in ways you never imagined.

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