The importance of bringing generations together

Closing the generation gap through shared experiences promotes understanding that can lead to respect and compassion.

The U.S. Administration on Aging states that by the year 2030, one in every five residents will be 65. According to the Census Bureau, 10,000 Americans turn 65 each day. By the year 2050, adults over the age of 65 will outnumber children under the age of 15. Given these statistics, now is the time to encourage strong relationships to bridge the generation gap and promote understanding between generations. 

The holiday season presents opportunities for intergenerational relationships to strengthen, or develop, as families come together to celebrate but it doesn’t have to stop there. It doesn’t have to be just between family members. 

Relationships between our oldest and youngest citizens are very important. Unfortunately, the generation gap is bigger than ever with the decline of families living in the same house, or in the same town for life. Families may be spread across many states and only see each other once or twice a year. Technology can play a role in keeping us in touch with each other, but it doesn’t replace face-to-face relationships and shared activities. 

The benefits of intergenerational relationships for both age groups are many.  Friendship, love and increased self-esteem. Improved health and a reduction in feelings of isolation. The benefits specifically for youth include; increased academic achievement, reduced delinquent behavior and improved social-emotional skills. These relationships can foster more understanding between generations leading to respect and compassion. 

Promoting intergenerational relationships could become a community-wide effort. Interested people from Michigan State University Extension offices, area schools, faith communities, business owners, local libraries, as well as city and township councils can come together to support our youngest and oldest residents through planned events and activities. 

Ideas for community-based programs include: 

  • Community library: Visit on a regular basis and ask if the library has a story hour or a program to tutor a new reader. 
  • Senior center: Ask your local senior center to hold a lunch for kids. Team up with a local school. 
  • Volunteer: Call the local MSU Extension office to volunteer as a 4-H leader. 4-H offers volunteers short term, four to six-week special interest clubs (SPIN Club). This is a great way to share an interest/talent such as cooking, pottery, sewing, rock collecting or animals.
  • Share your culture: Put together a demonstration for the school, library or enlist others for a cultural event at the local township hall.

The possibilities are endless; whether you share your love of gardening, biking, hiking, music, nature, farming or painting with a child, you are promoting understanding between generations. Rita Altman, R.N. Senior Vice President of Memory Care & Program Services at Sunrise Senior Living, believes intergenerational interaction is critical, as it can strengthen bonds and unite older adults and younger people on a new level.

Pennsylvania State University offers a great resource for activity ideas; Intergenerational Activities Sourcebook, written by Matt Kaplan and Lydia Hanhardt.

Intergenerational relationships benefit everyone. We all share a need to be connected to others and in our fast-paced world that often seems to isolate us, relationships that support understanding and respect are necessary.  

Michigan State University Extension provides programming and articles to foster healthy relationships.   

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