While soda fountains may be a thing of the past, there still seems to be a magical nostalgia centered around the local ice cream shop. On a recent visit to a new local custard shop here in Tampa Bay, I was struck by two things. The first was the fact that just like days gone by, families were sitting at tables enjoying their frosty desserts and yet each of these family tables was missing a grandparent. Do grandparents not take their grandchildren for ice cream anymore? Then, a new scene caught my eye. There were several tables of two in which sat senior couples quietly enjoying their treats and before each elderly couple left the shop they turned to table of young ones near them and spoke to the children. Both the children and seniors seems to light up at the sight of each other.
In the recent past, extended families often lived within the same home or very close to each other; however, this does not occur as frequently today. Even though people live healthier, longer lives, they expect to be self-sufficient. The trend in recent decades is for older Americans to live alone. As a result of this desire for independence, either by nuclear families or older adults, only one in eight single elderly adults now lives with extended family. The paradox is that although children today are more likely to have healthy, active grandparents, they are also less likely to know their grandparents well or visit with them frequently.
While it is not always possible for families to be in close proximity, it is important for both youth and seniors to connect with those of differing generations.
Benefits of Intergenerational Relationships
According to Erik Erikson, one of the first psychologists to describe social development across the lifespan, the final stage of emotional development is experienced around the age of 60 and older. Developing connections with a younger generation can help older adults feel a greater sense of fulfillment. In fact, linking older adults with youth can provide advantages for both groups. For example, such relationships can:
- Provide an opportunity for both to learn new skills
- Give the child and the older adult a sense of purpose
- Help to alleviate fears children may have of the elderly
- Help children to understand and later accept their own aging
- Invigorate and energize older adults
- Help reduce the likelihood of depression in the elderly
- Reduce the isolation of older adults
- Fill a void for children who do not have grandparents available to them
- Help keep family stories and history alive
- Aide in cognitive stimulation as well as broaden social circles should a youth introduce technology into the life a senior
According to researchers at the University of Florida, relating to older adults can be particularly challenging for adolescents. Adolescents tend to be focused on the present and think mainly about themselves, so they may be less interested in learning about older adults. Teens may display negative behavior that is hard for older adults to understand and adolescents will need guidance and encouragement to help them relate to older adults and understand the implications of aging.
Activities that Initiate, Build and Strengthen Intergenerational Relationships
- Storytelling. Swapping stories is a great activity and can help build a connection.
- Learning skills. Many older adults have skills or talents that would be interesting for children. Perhaps your child could learn to weave, crochet, fish, bake, or even take care of animals.
- Reading to each other.
- Planning/preparing a meal (if applicable).
- Scrapbooking. Establishing phone pals. This activity can connect older community members with children who are alone after school.
- Talking about ethnic heritage. Share ethnic customs, discuss the meaning of a name in native language, or relate special stories passed down about culture.
- Planting seeds or gardening. This illustrates the stages of the life cycle. A container garden can be created if bending or space are issues.
- Weather watching.
- Telling jokes.
- Discussing hobbies and sharing examples.
- Having the child teach the senior a new technology
At Bayshore we have seen the power of intergenerational relationships first hand. Our caregivers have had our country’s rich history brought to life through the stories our clients share. And the spark of vitality has returned to the faces of so many of our clients who benefit from the youthful conversations they share regarding today’s current events with our own care staff. We have also seen families brought back into relationship with one another when they released the stress of being caretakers for their elderly loved ones to Bayshore. Our family owned and operated company has long been committed to strengthening family relationships and even becoming family to those who are in need of the bonds of intergenerational relationships.
Written by: Jenée Mendillo, Bayshore Home Care
Source: University of Florida, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1007